Wood­ford's em­bat­tled in­vestors en­dure an­oth­er blow as £550M deal to sell-off biotech hold­ings fal­ters

Neil Wood­ford’s flag­ship fund is in the process of liq­ui­da­tion — and of­fload­ing the now shunned vet­er­an stock pick­er’s non-liq­uid hold­ings is prov­ing a bru­tal task.

In­vestors in the fund have re­port­ed­ly suf­fered yet an­oth­er set­back af­ter a £550 mil­lion deal to res­cue a port­fo­lio of his non-liq­uid stakes in biotech star­tups col­lapsed, which could cul­mi­nate in a fire sale of the hold­ings.

The im­plo­sion of Wood­ford’s fund and his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the UK’s shrewdest stock pick­ers oc­curred last year, fol­low­ing a pro­tract­ed pe­ri­od of with­drawals and a sub­se­quent sus­pen­sion that left swathes of in­vestor cash trapped.

Af­ter 26 years at In­vesco, Wood­ford launched his cor­ner­stone eq­ui­ty in­come fund in 2014, rais­ing bil­lions to in­vest in the life sci­ences. But some of his bets — such as Prothena, Cir­cas­sia and North­west Bio turned sour, and those wrin­kles cul­mi­nat­ed in a long pe­ri­od of weak re­turns. Wood­ford orig­i­nal­ly an­chored his rep­u­ta­tion as a blue-chip in­vestor in com­pa­nies like GSK, but rat­tled by Gilead’s HIV prowess, he elect­ed to part ways with the British drug­mak­er in 2017 in a lengthy blog post en­ti­tled “Glax­it.”

In March, the vet­er­an was chid­ing his crit­ics for steer­ing in­vestors away and sul­ly­ing his rep­u­ta­tion, in an at­tempt to sti­fle the blood­let­ting in his Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund. In an in­ter­view with the Fi­nan­cial Times, Wood­ford said the rate of with­drawals from the fund put him at risk of be­ing “out of busi­ness in about two-and-a-half years.”

As the trust in Wood­ford’s bets waned (the size of the fund shrank from £10.2 bil­lion to £3.7 bil­lion in two years), he at­tempt­ed to shack­le his in­vestors by sus­pend­ing their abil­i­ty to re­deem any liq­uid­i­ty from the fund. Adding fu­el to the fire, Wood­ford re­fused to waive his £100,000-a-day in­vest­ment man­age­ment fee for the cor­ner­stone fund, de­spite out­rage from the UK’s Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty, and the chair of the Trea­sury se­lect com­mit­tee.

The saga lin­gered on when in Ju­ly Link Fund So­lu­tions (the of­fi­cial hold­er of the Wood­ford Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund) said in­vestors would be thwart­ed from re­demp­tions, sales or oth­er trans­ac­tions for an ad­di­tion­al 28 days. In the first days of sus­pen­sion, Wood­ford’s team sold at least £300 mil­lion in as­sets in an at­tempt to shift away from pri­vate com­pa­nies to­ward more liq­uid stocks. By Oc­to­ber, the dis­graced Wood­ford was fired and it was de­cid­ed that his flag­ship Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund would be wound up. “This was Link’s de­ci­sion and one I can­not ac­cept, nor be­lieve is in the long-term in­ter­ests [of in­vestors],” he told Reuters.

Late last month, Eq­ui­ty In­come in­vestors re­ceived their first pay­out, worth be­tween 48 pence and 58 pence for a pound, fol­low­ing the sale of the list­ed por­tion of the port­fo­lio by Black­Rock. Now, as the liq­ui­da­tion process drags on — get­ting rid of the fund’s non-liq­uid funds — rough­ly 26% of the hold­ings —  is prov­ing hard­er than an­tic­i­pat­ed.

A deal with a bou­tique life sci­ences-fo­cused in­vest­ment bank WG Part­ners to as­sem­ble a group of in­vestors to pur­chase that biotech port­fo­lio (which in­cludes stakes in biotech com­pa­nies such as Ox­ford Nanopore and Im­muno­core) has fall­en apart.

A spokesper­son for Link sug­gest­ed that it was not in the best in­ter­est of in­vestors to pro­vide a run­ning com­men­tary of the sales process.

“It is in the best in­ter­ests of all in­vestors for the Fund to be wound up on the ba­sis of an ‘or­der­ly re­al­iza­tion’ of the Fund’s as­sets, which in­volves the sale of the Fund’s as­sets over a rea­son­able pe­ri­od of time.”

End­points News has al­so con­tact­ed WG Part­ners for com­ment.

Grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways for nov­el treat­ments: but does reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval lead to com­mer­cial suc­cess?

By Mwango Kashoki, MD, MPH, Vice President-Technical, and Richard Macaulay, Senior Director, of Parexel Regulatory & Access

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the use of regulatory options by companies looking to accelerate the journey of life-saving drugs to market. In 2018, 73% of the novel drugs approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were designated under one or more expedited development program categories (Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval).ᶦ

Sanofi out­lines big API plans as coro­n­avirus out­break re­port­ed­ly threat­ens short­age of 150 drugs

As the world becomes increasingly dependant on Asia for the ingredients of its medicines, Sanofi sees business to be done in Europe.

The French drugmaker said it’s creating the world’s second largest active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) manufacturer by spinning out its six current sites into a standalone company: Brindisi (Italy), Frankfurt Chemistry (Germany), Haverhill (UK), St Aubin les Elbeuf (France), Újpest (Hungary) and Vertolaye (France). They have mapped out €1 billion in expected sales by 2022 and 3,100 employees for the new operations headquartered in France.

UP­DAT­ED: NGM Bio takes leap for­ward in crowd­ed NASH field

South San Francisco-based NGM Bio may have underwhelmed with its interim analysis of a key cohort from a mid-stage NASH study last fall — but stellar topline data unveiled on Monday showed the compound induced significant signs of antifibrotic activity, NASH resolution and liver fat reduction, sending the company’s stock soaring.

There are an estimated 50+ companies focused on developing drugs for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a common liver disease that has long flummoxed researchers. The first wave of NASH drug developers struggled with efficacy as well as safety — and companies big and small have crashed and burned.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 72,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mickey Kertesz, KidsandArtOrg via YouTube

Soft­Bank's newest, $165M biotech in­vest­ment looks for in­fec­tious traces in the blood

SoftBank has found its newest biotech investment.

The Japanese bank has invested $165 million into Karius, a company that uses blood tests to diagnose infectious diseases, as part of its new Vision Fund 2. The full scope of the new fund has yet to be announced, but the first and newly-beleaguered Vision Fund poured $100 billion into technology companies, including the biotechs Vir Biotechnology and Roivant and the sequencing company 10x Genomics.

Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (Shutterstock)

FDA grants ‘break­through’ sta­tus to an­tibi­ot­ic al­ter­na­tive as Con­tra­Fect rush­es to join fight against su­per­bug

An experimental drug that promises to be the first anti-infective agent to prove superior to vancomycin — an antibiotic approved in 1958 — has notched the FDA’s “breakthrough” status.

ContraFect said the designation was based on Phase II data in which exebacase was tested against a superbug known as methicillin-resistant Staph aureus, or MRSA. In a subgroup analysis, the clinical responder rate at day 14 was 42.8% higher than that among those treated with standard of care, the company said (p=0.010).

Zhong Nanshan, CGTN via YouTube

Har­vard joins coro­n­avirus fight with $115 mil­lion and a high-pro­file Chi­nese part­ner

For two months, as the novel coronavirus swelled from a few early cases tied to a Wuhan market to a global epidemic, most of the world’s focus and dollars have flowed toward emergency initiatives: building vaccines at a record pace, plucking experimental antivirals out of freezers to see what sticks and immunizing mice for new antibodies.

Now a new and well-funded collaboration between Harvard and a top Chinese research institute will play the long game. In a 5-year, $115 million initiative backed by China Evergrande Group, researchers from the Harvard Medical School, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Guangzhou Institute for Respiratory Health will study the virus in an effort to develop therapies against infections by the novel coronavirus, known as SARS–CoV-2, and to prevent new ones.

No­var­tis gets a boost in block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis race with Roche

In the first step of what’s likely to be a long and uphill battle for the drugmaker, the FDA has accepted Novartis’s BLA submission for a new multiple sclerosis drug and given it priority review. The PDUFA date for the potential blockbuster drug is in June.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 72,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Juergen Horn

An­i­mal health vet Juer­gen Horn makes new an­ti­body play for pets, rak­ing $15M in Se­ries A haul

Zoetis forked over $85 million in 2017 to acquire Nexvet Biopharma and its pipeline of monoclonal antibodies. Juergen Horn, Nexvet’s former chief product development officer, has now secured $15 million for his own biologic company for animals: Invetx.

Buoyed by emerging advances in gene therapies for humans, scientists have started looking at harnessing the technology for animals setting up companies such as Penn-partnered Scout Bio and George Church-founded Rejuvenate Bio. But akin to Nexvet, Invetx is working on leveraging the time-tested science of monoclonal antibodies to treat chronic diseases that afflict man’s best friend.

As coro­n­avirus out­break reach­es 'tip­ping point,' GSK lends ad­ju­vant tech to Chi­nese part­ner armed with pre­clin­i­cal vac­cine

As the coronavirus originating out of Wuhan spreads to South Korea, Italy and Iran, stoking already intense fears of a pandemic, GlaxoSmithKline has found another pair of trusted hands to place its adjuvant system. China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals will add the adjuvant to its preclinical, protein-based vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2.

Clover, which is based in the inland city of Chengdu, boasts of a platform dubbed Trimer-Tag that produces covalently-trimerized fusion proteins. Its candidate, COVID-19 S-Trimer, resembles the viral spike (S)-protein found in the virus.