Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Biotech uni­corns first to go as Neil Wood­ford auc­tions as­sets off sus­pend­ed fund — re­port

As Neil Wood­ford seeks much-need­ed cash to end what threat­ens to be a pro­longed sus­pen­sion of his flag­ship fund, his biotech hold­ings might be the first chunk on the chop­ping block.

Reuters is re­port­ing that Wood­ford’s over­seers at Link have brought in a bou­tique in­vest­ment bank to han­dle the sale, which would fol­low a se­ries of small­er auc­tions from the frozen Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund that reaped £300 mil­lion ($379 mil­lion) in the first month af­ter Wood­ford abrupt­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out. But that was clear­ly not enough to re­open the flag­ship fund — Link an­nounced on the same day, ear­li­er this month, that the fund would stay closed for at least an­oth­er 28 days.

And many more 28-day pe­ri­ods to come, it ap­pears. The struc­tured auc­tion process could last up to three months, a source told Reuters.

Saku Sa­ha Wood­ford

The in­abil­i­ty to meet re­demp­tions — due to a high pro­por­tion of illiq­uid or un­list­ed as­sets that just wors­ened with an ex­o­dus of in­vestors that shrunk the fund from £10.2 bil­lion to £3.7 bil­lion in two years — was a big rea­son be­hind the sus­pen­sion. In or­der for Wood­ford’s turn­around mis­sion to work, he must be able to re­bal­ance his hold­ings with more liq­uid and list­ed stocks that can be sold off eas­i­ly in the fu­ture.

Link had pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed that it in­tends to ap­point a part­ner to as­sist with the ef­fort. The re­freshed port­fo­lio “will con­tin­ue to be fo­cused on un­der­val­ued com­pa­nies, but the ma­jor­i­ty of them will be FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 in­dex con­stituents,” it wrote in a state­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, that part­ner will be PJT, a spin­off of Black­stone helmed by Mor­gan Stan­ley vet Paul Taub­man. And they will like­ly be tar­get­ing buy­ers from hedge funds and sec­ondary mar­kets in the US and Eu­rope.

Paul Taub­man PTJ

Health­care and biotech in­vest­ments made up al­most a quar­ter of the Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund — though many of them have gone sour. Days ago, Saku Sa­ha, a top Wood­ford lieu­tenant in charge of ear­ly-stage biotech bets, left the knack­ered com­pa­ny.

The main stakes be­ing prepped for auc­tion will be Benev­o­len­tAI and Ox­ford Nanopore, two uni­corns fo­cused on AI-aid­ed drug dis­cov­ery and DNA se­quenc­ing, Reuters not­ed. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors, who have pre-emp­tive rights to a stock sale, in­clude Lans­downe Part­ners, Odey As­set Man­age­ment, Red­mile for and Sin­ga­pore’s GIC for Ox­ford Nanopore and Broad Street Prin­ci­pal In­vest­ments for Benev­o­len­tAI.

Since these are pri­vate com­pa­nies with some­what opaque val­u­a­tions, the price Wood­ford man­ages to ne­go­ti­ate would be of essence.

In a video pub­lished ear­li­er this month, where he ex­plained the con­tin­ued sus­pen­sion to in­vestors, Wood­ford ac­knowl­edges in­vestor con­cerns about sell­ing these stakes short.

“My view is that we won’t have to take big dis­counts,” he said. “These as­sets are fun­da­men­tal­ly at­trac­tive, and I’m con­fi­dent we’ll be able to ex­e­cute the strat­e­gy and get very good val­ue for our un­quot­ed and illiq­uid port­fo­lio.”

Nick Galakatos, Blackstone global head of life sciences

Nick Galakatos and the Black­stone team now have a record $4.6B to in­vest in bio­phar­ma, with a big fo­cus on push­ing com­pa­nies over the top

Nick Galakatos and his team at Blackstone Life Sciences have seen their biggest opportunities swell up in mostly established players who don’t have all the money they need to accomplish everything on the to-do list. And right now, with the industry booming, that’s a long list with some hefty needs.

The Blackstone team has neatly tied up the largest private fund ever raised in life sciences for making big dreams come true in biopharma. Late Thursday, Blackstone put out word that they had closed their highly anticipated fund with the projected $4.6 billion all in.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Gilead boasts of pos­i­tive remde­sivir da­ta on mor­tal­i­ty — but their analy­sis pro­vokes the skep­tics

Gilead is surging again off data that suggest its antiviral remdesivir might improve survival.

The new data come from an analysis Gilead conducted comparing the death rate and recovery time of patients in one of its remdesivir trials to a group of 800 patients “with similar baseline characteristics and disease severity” who received only standard-of-care around the same time. The result, they said, suggested that patients who received remdesivir had a 62% better chance at surviving than those who did not.

Hal Barron, GSK

Win or lose on the mar­ket­ing OK, the FDA just gunned down GSK’s bright hopes for their BC­MA ther­a­py

The FDA’s ODAC — the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee — has a well-known bias in favor of adding new cancer drugs to the market, even if efficacy is at best marginal and serious safety issues demand careful management.

Doctors want as many arrows in their quiver as they can get. And when patients are dying after failing multiple drugs, why not give it a go one more time?

GlaxoSmithKline, though, is about to test out how their new BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin can do after being mauled in an in-house FDA review, ahead of the Tuesday expert panel discussion. Even if the agency goes ahead with an expected green light, this drug will likely be constrained to a small niche — icing any plans they may have for making waves in oncology anytime soon.

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Covid-19 roundup: BioN­Tech go­ing head-to-head with Mod­er­na as PhI­II mR­NA launch looms; Tri­al on Shin­zo Abe’s once-fa­vorite an­tivi­ral is in­con­clu­sive

It’s a race to the Phase III finish line now for the 2 leading mRNA vaccines in the pipeline for Covid-19.

BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal that his company will start Phase III testing of their vaccine later this month, setting them up to lateral the data to regulators before the end of this year.

That puts them essentially on the exact same schedule as Moderna is dedicated to. The Massachusetts rival to BioNTech also expects to launch Phase III this month. Lots of rumors have circulated about delays and conflict among the scientists advancing the Moderna jab, but the biotech has consistently stuck to its plan to start a late-stage pivotal this month.

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Stephan Christgau, Amanda Hayward, Andreas Segerros and Magnus Persson (Eir Ventures)

A new ven­ture fund amid a pan­dem­ic? In the Nordics? Eir Ven­tures brings it on with €76M first close

From Pharmacia and Lundbeck to Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca, the Nordic countries have been the birthplace for some legacy pharma companies. But for all that history and reputation, Stephan Christgau counts only five specialized life science investors backing biotechs today.

That leaves plenty of room for Eir Ventures, a brand new venture fund Christgau — one of the founders of Novo Seeds — is launching with three other veteran VCs.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Atul Deshpande, Harbour BioMed chief strategy officer & head, US operations (Harbour BioMed)

An­oth­er biotech IPO set-up? Multi­na­tion­al biotech leaps from round to round, scoop­ing up cash at a blis­ter­ing pace

A short four months after announcing a $75 million haul in Series B+ fundraising, the multinational biotech Harbour BioMed pulled in another round of investments and eclipsed the nine-digit mark in the process.

Harbour completed its Series C financing, the company announced Thursday morning, raising $102.8 million and bringing its total investment sum to over $300 million since its founding in late 2016. The biotech plans to use the money to transition early-stage candidates from the discovery phase, fund candidates already in the clinic, and prep late-stage candidates for commercialization.

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Ed Engleman (Stanford Blood Center)

Stan­ford star on­col­o­gy sci­en­tist Ed En­gle­man helped cre­ate the im­munother­a­py field. Now he wants to shake up neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion R&D

Over the last generation of drug R&D, Ed Engleman has been a standout scientist.

The Stanford professor co-founded Dendreon and provided the scientific insights needed to develop Provenge into a pioneering — though not particularly marketable — immunotherapy. He’s spurred a slate of startups, assisted by his well-connected perch as a co-founder of Vivo Capital, and took the dendritic cell story into its next chapter at a startup called Bolt.

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