Neil Woodford (file photo)

As in­vestors soured on his bets, records show Wood­ford paid him­self hand­some div­i­dends

Ahead of the im­plo­sion of his flag­ship fund and his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the UK’s most savvi­est stock pick­ers, Neil Wood­ford paid him­self and his busi­ness part­ner £13.8 mil­lion in div­i­dends in the year lead­ing up to the im­passe.

For the pe­ri­od be­tween April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019 — Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment made a post-tax prof­it of about £16.3 mil­lion, records post­ed on Com­pa­nies House on Mon­day show. The com­pa­ny paid Wood­ford Cap­i­tal, an un­lim­it­ed com­pa­ny owned by Wood­ford (with a 65% stake) and his busi­ness part­ner Craig New­man (with the re­main­ing 35% stake) £13.8 mil­lion in div­i­dends (£9 mil­lion and £4.8 mil­lion, re­spec­tive­ly).

But trou­ble for Wood­ford was al­ready brew­ing be­fore March. Ear­li­er in the month, the em­bat­tled vet­er­an was chid­ing his crit­ics for steer­ing in­vestors away and sul­ly­ing his rep­u­ta­tion, in an at­tempt to sti­fle the blood­let­ting in his flag­ship Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund. In an in­ter­view with the Fi­nan­cial Times, Wood­ford said the rate of with­drawals from the fund put him at risk of be­ing “out of busi­ness in about two-and-a-half years.” In the year end­ing March 31, 2018, Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment made an af­ter-tax prof­it of £33.7 mil­lion.

Af­ter 26 years at In­vesco, Wood­ford launched his cor­ner­stone eq­ui­ty in­come fund in 2014, rais­ing bil­lions to in­vest in the life sci­ences. But some of his bets — such as Prothena, Cir­cas­sia and North­west Bio, turned sour, and those wrin­kles cul­mi­nat­ed in a long pe­ri­od of weak re­turns. Wood­ford orig­i­nal­ly an­chored his rep­u­ta­tion as a blue-chip in­vestor in com­pa­nies like GSK, but rat­tled by Gilead’s HIV prowess, he elect­ed to part ways with the British drug­mak­er in 2017 in a lengthy blog post en­ti­tled “Glax­it.”

As the trust in Wood­ford’s bets waned (the size of the fund shrank from £10.2 bil­lion to £3.7 bil­lion in two years), he at­tempt­ed to shack­le his in­vestors by sus­pend­ing their abil­i­ty to re­deem any liq­uid­i­ty from the fund. Adding fu­el to the fire, Wood­ford re­fused to waive his £100,000-a-day in­vest­ment man­age­ment fee for the cor­ner­stone fund, ig­nor­ing out­rage from the UK’s Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty, and the chair of the Trea­sury se­lect com­mit­tee.

The saga lin­gered on when in Ju­ly Link Fund So­lu­tions (the of­fi­cial hold­er of the Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund) said in­vestors would be thwart­ed from re­demp­tions, sales or oth­er trans­ac­tions for an ad­di­tion­al 28 days. In the first days of sus­pen­sion, Wood­ford’s team sold at least £300 mil­lion in as­sets in at­tempt to shift away from pri­vate com­pa­nies to­ward more liq­uid stocks.

Mean­while, Wood­ford’s oth­er funds al­so suf­fered. Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, with­drew £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund. The per­for­mance of the Wood­ford Pa­tient Cap­i­tal Trust al­so took a hit. Brex­it un­cer­tain­ty at the time did not help, with ner­vous in­vestors with­draw­ing an eye-pop­ping £15.3 bil­lion out of UK Eq­ui­ty In­come funds in gen­er­al in the 16 months lead­ing up to April 2019, ac­cord­ing to da­ta com­piled by Morn­ingstar.

By Oc­to­ber, the dis­graced Wood­ford was fired and his flag­ship Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund was dis­man­tled. “This was Link’s de­ci­sion and one I can­not ac­cept, nor be­lieve is in the long-term in­ter­ests [of in­vestors],” he told Reuters.

The scan­dal has made life dif­fi­cult for the com­pa­nies Wood­ford once en­dorsed, which have since borne the brunt of his fall from grace. Sev­er­al drug­mak­ers, such as Ar­ix Bio­sciences, Au­to­lus, and Prothena have ei­ther be­come a prime tar­get for short at­tacks or seen ex­ag­ger­at­ed re­ac­tions to set­backs.

Inside FDA HQ (File photo)

The FDA just ap­proved the third Duchenne MD drug. And reg­u­la­tors still don’t know if any of them work

Last year Sarepta hit center stage with the FDA’s controversial reversal of its CRL for the company’s second Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug — after the biotech was ambushed by agency insiders ready to reject a second pitch based on the same disease biomarker used for the first approval for eteplirsen, without actual data on the efficacy of the drug.

On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO

UP­DAT­ED: On the heels of a snap $1B raise, Cure­Vac out­lines plans to seek emer­gency OK for Covid-19 vac­cine -- shares rock­et up

CureVac is going from being one of the quietest players in the race to develop a new vaccine to fight the worst public health crisis in a century to a challenger for the multibillion-dollar market that awaits the first vaccines to make it over the finish line. Typically low-key at a time of brash comments and incredibly ambitious development timelines from the leaders, CureVac now is jumping straight into the spotlight.

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FDA ap­proves the third NMOSD drug in 18 months as Roche/Genen­tech beefs up its port­fo­lio of drugs for neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders

There were no FDA approved treatments for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder at the start of 2019. Now, as of Friday, there are three.

The latest entrant to the market is the Roche/Genentech drug satralizumab after US regulators gave it the thumbs up late Friday. An IL-6 inhibitor, the drug joins Alexion’s Soliris and AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio’s Uplizna. The annual cost of satralizumab — which will hit the market as Enspryng — will be $190,000 for 13 doses, a Genentech spokesperson said, though the first year of treatment requires 15 doses and cost about $220,000.

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Stéphane Bancel speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House meeting on March 2 (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na of­fers steep dis­count in US sup­ply deal — but still takes the crown with close to $2.5B in vac­cine con­tracts

The US pre-order for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is in.

Operation Warp Speed is reserving $1.525 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna’s Phase III mRNA candidate, rounding out to about $15 per dose — including $300 million in incentive payments for timely delivery. Given that Moderna has a two-dose regimen, it’s good for vaccinating 50 million people. The US government also has the option to purchase another 400 million doses for a total of $6.6 billion, or $16.5 per dose.

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US gov­ern­ment re­port­ed­ly be­gins prepar­ing for Covid-19 chal­lenge tri­als. Are they eth­i­cal?

Controversial human challenge trials for potential Covid-19 vaccines reportedly have a new booster — the US government.

Scientists working for the government have begun manufacturing a strain of the novel coronavirus that could be used in such studies, Reuters reported Friday morning. The trials would enroll healthy volunteers to be vaccinated and then intentionally infected with a weakened coronavirus.

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Sanofi vet Kather­ine Bowdish named CEO of PIC Ther­a­peu­tics; As the world Terns: Liv­er dis­ease biotech makes ex­ec­u­tive changes

PIC Therapeutics hasn’t raised much money, yet. But the fledgling biotech has attracted a high-profile player to the helm.

The Boston-based biotech has handed the reins to Katherine Bowdish as its president and CEO. Bowdish will also join the board of directors of PIC. Bowdish joins from Sanofi where she served as VP and head of R&D strategy, as well as helping launch and lead Sanofi Sunrise, a venture investment and partnering vehicle at Sanofi. Before that, Bowdish held several exec roles at Permeon Biologics, Anaphore, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Prolifaron (acquired by Alexion).

Martin Shkreli (Shutterstock)

Mar­tin Shkre­li con­tin­ued to or­ches­trate an­ti-com­pet­i­tive schemes for Dara­prim be­hind bars — FTC

Martin Shkreli didn’t just blog, read up on drug development news and run his biotech business with a contraband cell phone in prison. According to the FTC, he was also coordinating the anticompetitive scheme to shield Daraprim — the drug at the center of a price-gouging controversy that earned him the “Pharma Bro” nickname — from generic rivals.

Back in January the FTC, together with New York’s attorney general, launched a federal lawsuit against Shkreli, who’s now serving a 7-year sentence for defrauding investors in his hedge fund, alleging that he effectively created a drug monopoly. While Shkreli’s notorious move to raise the per tablet price of Daraprim from $17.50 to $750 was perfectly legal, the tactics he allegedly deployed to box out competitors weren’t.

Charlie Silver (Mission Bio)

'We want to be every­where.' Mis­sion Bio rais­es $70M be­hind re­sis­tance-hunt­ing se­quenc­ing plat­form

Charlie Silver wants to look really, really closely at a lot of your cells. And he just got a lot of money to do so.

Silver’s startup, Mission Bio, raised $70 million in a Series C round Thursday led by Novo Holdings. The money, which brings Mission Bio to $120 million raised since its 2012 founding, will be used to advance the single-cell sequencing platform they built to detect early response or resistance to new cancer therapies.

A lab technician works during research on coronavirus at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Virginia Mayo/AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: End­points News ranks all 28 play­ers in the Covid-19 vac­cine race. Here's how it stacks up to­day

(This piece was last updated on August 14. Endpoints News will continue to track the latest developments through the FDA’s marketing decisions.)

The 28 players now in or close to the clinical race to get a Covid-19 vaccine over the finish line are angling for a piece of a multibillion-dollar market. And being first — or among the leaders — will play a big role in determining just how big a piece.

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