Mystery U.S. fund plans $1B U.K. investment: Financial Times

The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, U.K. (Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5])

A U.S. life sciences fund is set to invest up to $1 billion (€840 million) in the United Kingdom biotech sector, the Financial Times reports. The as-yet-unidentified fund will reportedly embark on the spending spree while shifting a “significant” chunk of its operations from the U.S. to the U.K.

More details of the investment are due to emerge later this week when the U.K. government and drugmakers unveil the “sector deal” that will define the future of the industry post-Brexit. So far, only an incomplete picture of the news has emerged in articles by the Sunday Times and FT. 

The Times was the first to pick up on the news, stating “one international investor is likely to migrate its assets to the U.K.” in an article that ran over the weekend. The FT followed up hours later with a piece that added some meat to the bones of the story but muddied the waters in some regards.

According to the financial paper, the fund “is planning to invest up to $1 billion to create a large biotech company in the U.K.” That implies it is lining up a big bet on one biotech—Immunocore is a possible candidate—rather than embarking on a broad investment strategy that would benefit the whole sector.   

The FT also confirmed the Times’ reporting on the prospect of the fund moving assets to the U.K.

How big a deal this is for the U.K. rests on the details. Getting a major U.S. life science fund to move its center of gravity across the Atlantic and pump big money into British biotechs would be a major coup for the U.K. 

Such a fund would further the U.K.’s ambition to build four £20 billion biotechs in the next 10 years, both by participating directly in big rounds and by acting as a magnet for other investors.

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However, it is possible the “up to” in the phrase “up to $1 billion” is doing a lot of work. And that whoever leaked the information to the papers is stretching the definition of “significant” when describing the transatlantic migration of assets.

Plenty of possible leakers of the information have an incentive to pump up the significance of the investment and relocation to, and possibly beyond, the best-case scenario. News of the sector deal comes at a time when the failure to reach an agreement over the Irish border post-Brexit risks delaying, or at worst derailing, negotiations with the European Union.

The possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal is making businesses edgy. The chance to reel off big investments by major companies makes the sector deal an opportunity to redefine perceptions of business in post-Brexit Britain.

Leaks from the weekend suggest the government plans to seize on the opportunity. Investments from more than 20 organizations, including GlaxoSmithKline, are expected to be announced.