Neil Woodford (Woodford Investment Management via YouTube)

Neil Wood­ford in the game to buy back his for­mer un­list­ed port­fo­lio that's prov­ing hard to sell — re­ports

As bro­kers strug­gle to of­fload the port­fo­lio of as­sets for­mer­ly man­aged by Neil Wood­ford, an un­like­ly buy­er has emerged.

The dis­graced stock­pick­er is re­port­ed­ly gaug­ing in­vestor in­ter­est in a come­back bid to reac­quire some of those un­list­ed com­pa­ny stakes, in­clud­ing eq­ui­ty in drug dis­cov­ery start­up Benev­o­len­tAI and TCR play­er Im­muno­core.

If he man­ages to pull enough fund­ing — £500 mil­lion (close to $720 mil­lion) would be re­quired — Wood­ford would set up a new ve­hi­cle to buy back his dar­lings at a dis­count. The tar­get au­di­ence will be pro­fes­sion­al, so­phis­ti­cat­ed back­ers rather than re­tail in­vestors.

Sky News first re­port­ed the news, which was then echoed by the Times and oth­er out­lets.

“Neil is dip­ping his toe in very gen­tly,” a source told This is Mon­ey. “He has had a hand­ful of con­ver­sa­tions with in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors to gauge their ap­petite.”

Bloomberg pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed that Wood­ford and busi­ness part­ner Craig New­man have met up with co-in­vestors in Chi­na and the Mid­dle East for a po­ten­tial new ven­ture fo­cused on ear­ly-staged as­sets. It’s un­clear whether they dis­cussed buy­ing his for­mer hold­ings.

Af­ter Wood­ford abrupt­ly froze his flag­ship Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund, bar­ring in­vestors from re­deem­ing, sell­ing or oth­er­wise pulling out their in­vest­ments last June, it took Link Fund So­lu­tions to fire him and de­cide to liq­ui­date the fund. But while the sale of the list­ed por­tion of the port­fo­lio, en­trust­ed to Black­Rock, went smooth­ly, PJT Part­ners had a much hard­er time se­cur­ing a good deal for the pri­vate star­tups in the mix. With some of those hold­ings boast­ing uni­corn sta­tus, it was like­ly dif­fi­cult for the sell­er and buy­ers to reach agree­ment on the val­u­a­tion.

Last month the Sun­day Times re­port­ed that a £550 mil­lion res­cue deal col­lapsed af­ter WG Part­ners, the life sci­ences-fo­cused bou­tique in­vest­ment bank, failed to as­sem­ble a group of in­vestors will­ing to help take over Wood­ford’s 20 star­tups on time.

The Wood­ford fall­out was cit­ed as one fac­tor weigh­ing down mar­ket sen­ti­ment in the UK BioIn­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nu­al re­port. It al­so “cre­at­ed a dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment for some com­pa­nies with­in that port­fo­lio, over­shad­ow­ing pos­i­tive mile­stones.”

But oth­ers have moved on. Ox­ford Nanopore Tech­nolo­gies be­gan the year with $38.6 mil­lion (£29.3 mil­lion) in new cap­i­tal for its gene se­quenc­ing de­vice busi­ness, while man­ag­ing to help Wood­ford and oth­er ex­ist­ing in­vestors find new firms to take their stakes to­talling $105.9 mil­lion (£80.2 mil­lion). And with for­mer Med­Im­mune chief Bahi­ja Jal­lal now at the helm fol­low­ing an ex­ec ex­o­dus, Im­muno­core has re­cent­ly added $130 mil­lion to its cof­fers.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.