Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Of­fer­ing much need­ed re­lief for Wood­ford-as­so­ci­at­ed funds, se­quenc­ing uni­corn Ox­ford Nanopore rais­es $105.9M in new cash

In­vestors in Ox­ford Nanopore Tech­nolo­gies — in­clud­ing Neil Wood­ford’s for­mer fund — has man­aged to re­coup some cash as the gene se­quenc­ing de­vice mak­er clos­es its lat­est round and, in the process, boosts its uni­corn val­u­a­tion.

The com­pa­ny said it’s brought in $38.6 mil­lion (£29.3 mil­lion) in new cap­i­tal and helped some back­ers find new firms to take their stake, lead­ing to a sec­ondary sale to­tal­ing $105.9 mil­lion (£80.2 mil­lion). All told, the $144.5 mil­lion (£109.5 mil­lion) fi­nanc­ing upped its val­u­a­tion to over $2 bil­lion, the Times re­port­ed.

No de­tails were giv­en about the new in­vestors ex­cept that they came from the Unit­ed States, Eu­rope and Asia Pa­cif­ic. Sin­ga­pore’s Temasek was re­port­ed­ly eye­ing a deal.

Among the ex­ist­ing in­vestors who of­floaded parts of their hold­ings is the IP Group, once Wood­ford’s dar­ling, and the Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund that’s in the process of be­ing liq­ui­dat­ed af­ter fir­ing Wood­ford as the man­ag­er.

They had to sell their sec­ondary shares at a price 9% low­er than the cost of new shares — £53 ver­sus £58 — the Times added.

But dis­count­ed or not, any cash in­jec­tion is count­ed as a win for the in­vestors whose mon­ey have been trapped since last June, when Wood­ford abrupt­ly froze his flag­ship Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund. Then in Oc­to­ber, af­ter the be­lea­guered stock­pick­er spent months try­ing to sell off un­list­ed hold­ings and re­plen­ish his port­fo­lio with list­ed as­sets, he was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly sacked by Link Fund So­lu­tions, the au­tho­rized cor­po­rate di­rec­tor of the fund. Link an­nounced that the fund wouldn’t re­open af­ter all.

In­stead, Link re­tained Black­Rock Ad­vi­sors and PJT Part­ners to sell what they can so that they can re­turn to in­vestors some por­tion of their orig­i­nal com­mit­ments. The first pay­ment is due by the end of this month.

Alan Aubrey

Lon­don-based IP Group said it be­came col­lat­er­al dam­age of Wood­ford’s demise. While gain­ing his fa­vor was once a badge of hon­or for biotech up­starts, their as­so­ci­a­tion with him had “ad­verse­ly im­pact­ed val­u­a­tions and con­strained fund­ing avail­abil­i­ty” in the first half of 2019. Soon af­ter, Wood­ford sold his en­tire stake at a dis­count for around £76 mil­lion.

“We’re de­light­ed to see an­oth­er suc­cess­ful fundrais­ing for Ox­ford Nanopore which rounds off an im­pres­sive year of com­mer­cial suc­cess and tech­ni­cal val­i­da­tion of nanopore se­quenc­ing,” IP Group chief ex­ec­u­tive Alan Aubrey said in a state­ment.

Spun out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford, Nanopore boasts “scal­able” DNA and RNA se­quenc­ing tech that can range from bench-top de­vices to pock­et-sized ma­chines.

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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Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO

UP­DAT­ED: On the heels of a snap $1B raise, Cure­Vac out­lines plans to seek emer­gency OK for their Covid-19 vac­cine in a mat­ter of months

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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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).

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.

Trevor Martin (Mammoth)

Eye­ing in-vi­vo edit­ing, Mam­moth li­cens­es Jen­nifer Doud­na’s new CRISPR en­zyme

Last month, Jennifer Doudna revealed in Science a new, “hyper-compact” CRISPR enzyme that was half the size of traditional CRISPR enzymes and could, she suspected, offer a new, more versatile tool for gene editing.

Now, the University of California-Berkeley has licensed that enzyme, known as Casφ, exclusively to a biotech startup she and two former students set up three years ago: Mammoth Biosciences. It’s the second new CRISPR protein Mammoth has licensed from Doudna’s lab, after they licensed Cas14 in 2019.

Clockwise from left: Canaccord Genuity principal Michelle Gilson, Canaccord Genuity CSO Brian Mueller and BioMarin CSO Hank Fuchs (Canaccord Genuity webcast)

Bio­Marin CSO diss­es ri­vals for the he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py crown: Way be­hind, fac­ing big re­cruit­ment chal­lenges and at best a .6 on the gen-one scale

The leader in the race to a hemophilia A gene therapy does not like to be compared unfavorably to the competition. And when their top execs do the comparing, don’t look for any modesty — BioMarin, they say, owns the lead.

As Factor VIII expression wanes over time, quite a few analysts have raised questions about the kind of future BioMarin’s gene therapy — a supposed once-and-done treatment — faces if it stops working. But just 7 days away from their PDUFA date, with high odds of success, the top execs clearly feel that they are way out front, while promising their rivals will discover there’s a tough slog ahead trying to pursue trials where large numbers of patients are ineligible for new therapies.

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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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