Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford fired from flag­ship fund — which won't re­open af­ter all

The de­ba­cle around Neil Wood­ford’s sus­pend­ed flag­ship fund is com­ing to an abrupt end.

Link Fund So­lu­tions, the au­tho­rized cor­po­rate di­rec­tor of the Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund, is sack­ing the dis­graced stock­pick­er from his name­sake fund and wind­ing it down. Be­gin­ning in Jan­u­ary, the firm’s des­ig­nat­ed bro­kers will grad­u­al­ly sell off all as­sets in the port­fo­lio to pay back the trapped in­vestors — with the first in­stall­ment due by the end of that month.

“Whilst progress has been made in re­la­tion to repo­si­tion­ing the Fund’s port­fo­lio, this has un­for­tu­nate­ly not been suf­fi­cient to al­low rea­son­able cer­tain­ty as to when the repo­si­tion­ing would be ful­ly achieved and the Fund could be re-opened” by the De­cem­ber dead­line, Link wrote in a let­ter to in­vestors.

Wood­ford, who first froze the Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund in June and has since been on a mis­sion to ob­tain enough cash flow to meet po­ten­tial re­demp­tions by switch­ing out the pri­vate, illiq­uid parts of the £3.7 bil­lion fund for list­ed stocks, balked at the an­nounce­ment.

“This was Link’s de­ci­sion and one I can­not ac­cept, nor be­lieve is in the long-term in­ter­ests [of in­vestors],” he said in a state­ment sent to a num­ber of UK out­lets.

Link still needs for­mal ap­proval from the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty to start the process. Hav­ing been in con­tact with the com­pa­ny since June, the reg­u­la­to­ry watch­dog says it wel­comes the re­moval of un­cer­tain­ty by Link’s move.

That said, the FCA’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the ac­tiv­i­ties lead­ing to the sus­pen­sion of the fund is still on­go­ing.

Black­Rock Ad­vi­sors has been tapped to han­dle the liq­uid hold­ings, while PJT Part­ners — which has been work­ing with Wood­ford on the fire sales — re­mains in charge of the “less eas­i­ly sold as­sets.”

As to how much in­vestors can ex­pect to re­ceive from the wind­ing-up process, FCA has this guid­ance in its Q&A:

The amount you will re­ceive will de­pend on the fund’s val­ue and the amount raised by sell­ing the fund’s as­sets. The fund’s val­ue fluc­tu­ates in line with the mar­ket val­ues of its un­der­ly­ing as­sets. If as­sets are sold for low­er prices, you will re­ceive less from the wind­ing-up process and this al­so may be less than you orig­i­nal­ly in­vest­ed.

A num­ber of biotechs backed by Wood­ford in­clud­ing Im­muno­core and Benev­o­len­tAI have re­port­ed­ly seen their val­u­a­tions drop, hurt­ing his — and now Link’s — chances of re­triev­ing near­ly as much as he’s put in.

The clos­ing of a well-known fund that man­aged £10.2 mil­lion worth of as­sets at its peak shocks the mar­ket at a time the UK bio­phar­ma in­dus­try is do­ing some se­ri­ous soul search­ing. In a new re­port, the In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Re­search sug­gests the life sci­ences sec­tor has ex­pe­ri­enced a “lost decade” in which £15 bil­lion in R&D fund­ing that would have been in­vest­ed in the UK had gone else­where.

“This col­lapse is on a par with the im­plo­sion of New Star at the height of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and it will shake the fund’s in­dus­try to its core,” Adri­an Low­cock, head of per­son­al in­vest­ment at the in­vest­ment plat­form Willis Owen, told the Fi­nan­cial Times.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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