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The veteran Silicon Valley venture capital firm that helped found the biotechnology industry, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is now laying a bet on a breakthrough technology surrounding stem cells derived from adult humans.

Kleiner is backing a new Bay Area company, iZumi Bio Inc., which had its public premiere Monday with the announcement of a research collaboration with the J. David Gladstone Institutes, based in San Francisco. The nonprofit institute is a center of scientific work on novel methods of "reprogramming" adult cells to recover the versatile properties of embryonic stem cells, which can morph into any cell type in the body.

Although stem cells have been recognized as potentially powerful sources of therapies such as replacement tissues for injured hearts or nerves, VC firms have been reluctant to invest in stem cell companies, said Dr. Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. Stem cell research is at such an early-stage that commercial payoffs may not arrive for many years, he said.

But Kleiner Perkins, which in 1976 provided the seed funding for biotech giant Genentech...