Neil Woodford (Jenny Goodall/​ANL/​Shutterstock)

'I’m not try­ing to re­build an ego': Neil Wood­ford ap­peals to pro­fes­sion­als for his come­back biotech fund

Neil Wood­ford is back. For re­al.

More than a year af­ter he was fired from his epony­mous flag­ship fund — which fol­lowed a con­tro­ver­sial and chaot­ic sus­pen­sion that came on the heels of in­vestors de­mand­ing their mon­ey back fol­low­ing two years of un­der­per­for­mance — the dis­graced stock­pick­er said he’s ready to re­build a biotech in­vest­ment op­er­a­tion from scratch.

Craig New­man

The new brand will be chris­tened WCM Part­ners, af­ter Wood­ford Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, he told The Tele­graph in an in-depth in­ter­view. Speak­ing pub­licly for the first time since get­ting sacked, he was at times emo­tion­al, apolo­getic and an­gry. Yet if any­thing, he still sounds con­fi­dent.

There’s just one po­ten­tial hitch (if you don’t count the rage of all the peo­ple whose mon­ey he bet with): Wood­ford is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the UK’s Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty, which could yet bar him from man­ag­ing mon­ey from cer­tain in­vestors.

But it’s not stop­ping him and his right-hand man, Craig New­man, from dream­ing about help­ing build “the As­traZenecas of the fu­ture.”

“I thought I nev­er, ever want to be near the fund man­age­ment in­dus­try again, but they say time is a heal­er,” he said in the in­ter­view. “I didn’t want what hap­pened to me in 2019 to be the epi­taph of my ca­reer, I didn’t want it to be the full stop. I’m not try­ing to re­build an ego, I just felt I want­ed to con­tin­ue to do the things that I be­lieve in. I don’t think I’m qual­i­fied to do any­thing else. You can imag­ine lots of peo­ple who have read the me­dia about me wouldn’t want to touch me with a ten-foot dis­in­fect­ed barge­pole.”

While ad­mit­ting re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for un­der­per­form­ing, Wood­ford was still adamant that he would’ve proven naysay­ers wrong if on­ly he was al­lowed to stay at the helm. Fund man­ag­er Link Fund So­lu­tions’ de­ci­sion to liq­ui­date the Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund was “in­cred­i­bly dam­ag­ing to in­vestors, and they were not mine.”

Look­ing back at his port­fo­lio, which was auc­tioned off for cheap, he feels vin­di­cat­ed.

Ox­ford Nanopore and Synair­gen have come up with a test and a po­ten­tial treat­ment for Covid-19 be­tween them­selves; Kymab and its atopic der­mati­tis drug has been bought by Sanofi in a $1.1 bil­lion deal.

And for those who got riled up about the £60,000 in dai­ly fees his fund was col­lect­ing even af­ter freez­ing out in­vestors, he not­ed that the whole de­ba­cle has cost him a £30 mil­lion farm in the Cotswolds that he used to call home.

“From the mo­ment of the fund sus­pen­sion Craig and I re­ceived ab­solute­ly no in­come, or div­i­dends or any re­mu­ner­a­tion from Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment, none, and in­deed haven’t re­ceived any for the best part of two years,” he said, adding lat­er: “The last pay I re­ceived was in May 2019.”

Wood­ford claims he’s learned his lessons. First: He won’t be run­ning a re­tail fund — not as long as he still wants to have un­list­ed as­sets. The new fund will so­lic­it cap­i­tal on­ly from pro­fes­sion­als.

It’s still un­clear who might jump in. In late 2019, Bloomberg re­port­ed that Wood­ford and New­man had ex­plorato­ry meet­ings with in­vestors in Chi­na but noth­ing had ma­te­ri­al­ized, at least pub­licly, from those talks.

What we do know is that the new firm will be staffed par­tial­ly with friends from Aca­cia Re­search, a US-based life sci­ences group that prof­it­ed hand­some­ly on the oth­er side of the Wood­ford fund’s fire sale. Wood­ford has been ad­vis­ing Aca­cia since last sum­mer.

“We’ll have a dif­fer­ent set of in­vestors, those in­vestors will by de­f­i­n­i­tion be tak­ing struc­tural­ly longer term views — we are not go­ing to be run­ning dai­ly liq­uid­i­ty re­tail funds,” he said. “We won’t be ex­posed to the same sorts of prob­lems.”

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Antoine Papiernik, Sofinnova managing director (Business Wire)

Sofinno­va Part­ners stays fo­cused on late-stage deals with a new, $540M crossover fund

One of Europe’s most high-profile biopharma investors is getting $540 million to invest in new crossover deals for late-stage companies.

The Paris-based VC says the fresh Sofinnova Crossover Fund raise positions them as the “largest crossover investor in Europe dedicated to late-stage biopharma and medtech investments.”

They got a leg up in France after winning a special “Tibi” designation from the French government, giving them access to a pool of €6 billion that helped them gain an edge with institutional investors. Since they were founded close to 50 years ago, the venture group has backed more than 500 companies and currently has more than €2 billion under management.

Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO19

GSK, Vir's hopes for a Covid-19 an­ti­body fall flat in NIH 'mas­ter pro­to­col' with no ben­e­fit in hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients

GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology were hopeful that one of their partnered antibodies would carve out a win after getting the invite to a major NIH study in hospitalized Covid-19 patients. But just like Eli Lilly, the pair’s drug couldn’t hit the mark, and now they’ll be left to take a hard look at the game plan.

The NIH has shut down enrollment for GSK and Vir’s antibody VIR-7831 in its late-stage ACTIV-3 trial after the drug showed negligible effect in achieving sustained recovery in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the partners said Wednesday.

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As Brain­Storm con­tin­ues to tout ‘clear sig­nal’ on ALS drug, the FDA of­fers a rare pub­lic slap­down on the da­ta

A little more than a week after BrainStorm acknowledged that regulators at the FDA had informed them that the biotech needed more data before it could expect to gain an approval for its ALS treatment NurOwn — while still touting a “clear signal” of efficacy and not ruling out an application — the agency has decided to clarify the record in a most unusual statement.

The FDA statement amounts to a straight slap own, offering a different set of efficacy numbers from the company’s public presentation last November and ruling out any chance of statistical significance.

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In­tro­duc­ing End­points FDA+, our new pre­mi­um week­ly reg­u­la­to­ry news re­port led by Zachary Bren­nan

CRLs. 483s. CBER, CDER and RWE. For biopharma professionals, these acronyms command attention because of the fundamental role FDA plays in drug development. Now Endpoints is doubling down on regulatory coverage, and launching a weekly report focusing on developments out of White Oak, with analysis and insight into what it all means.

Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan. He joins Endpoints from POLITICO, where he covered pharma. Prior to that he was the managing editor for Regulatory Focus, a news publication from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

Eli Lil­ly claims suc­cess in a new JAK in­di­ca­tion: hair loss

Over the last decade, drugmakers have proven JAK inhibitors can treat a smattering of immune-related diseases ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to Covid-19. Now Eli Lilly has pulled out a new one.

Lilly and its biotech partner Incyte announced Wednesday that their JAK inhibitor baricitinib effectively regrew patients’ hair in a Phase III trial for alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that can cause sudden, severe and patchy hair loss. Lilly didn’t break down the results from the 546-patient trial, but the primary endpoint was improvement on a standard score for alopecia symptoms.

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CEO David Campbell (Janux)

Fresh off $1B+ Mer­ck deal, Janux locks down first pri­vate fundraise for its T cell en­gagers

Janux Therapeutics had kept a relatively low profile since being founded back in 2017 but burst onto the scene late last year when Merck plunked down more than $1 billion in promised milestones for its T cell engagers. Now, less than three months later, the small biotech has clinched its first round of private funding led by some prominent backers.

As it prepares its first programs for INDs, Janux completed a $56 million Series A on Wednesday morning, with Jay Lichter’s Avalon Ventures joining forces with new investors OrbiMed and RA Capital Management to fund the company. Janux will use the cash to primarily advance its T cell engagers targeting PSMA and TROP2, which are expected to hit the clinic in the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.

Rachel Haurwitz, Caribou CEO (Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

A Jen­nifer Doud­na-launched up­start nabs $115M for off-the-shelf CAR-Ts

There is no shortage of biotechs pursuing off-the-shelf CAR-Ts, a so-called Holy Grail in oncology R&D. Now, less than a month after teaming up with AbbVie, a California player launched by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna has returned to the venture well, scooping up a big crossover round to help it along.

Caribou Biosciences took the wraps off a $115 million Series C on Wednesday morning, bringing their total raise to around $157 million, CEO Rachel Haurwitz said.

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