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.”

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.