VC shop Syncona warns of company trial delays as COVID-19 pandemic deepens

A pipette labeled Covid-19
(Getty/Bill Oxford)

Life science venture capital firm Syncona is warning of serious delays to studies across its biotech portfolio.

The British company said that as COVID-19 sweeps across Europe and the U.S. and with more and more countries issuing tougher lockdowns to ensure social distancing, it foresees as an inevitability months’ worth of delays to clinical trials for its funded companies.

“While it is hard to forecast the precise impact, we would anticipate delays to a number of our clinical stage programmes of at least three months,” the firm said.  

“Whilst the duration and level of disruption from COVID-19 across the industry remains uncertain at this time, we are working closely with our portfolio companies to minimise disruption, avoid unnecessary burdens on health services, and ensure the safety of their employees and the patients taking part in clinical studies.”

The VC said it has formed a working group to “monitor and manage risks relating to the COVID-19 pandemic” with the health and safety of its staff a “key priority,” and it has been promoting remote working where possible.

Last week, a growing number of biopharmas said they had been hit by delays to their ongoing trials because of COVID-19 given some trial patients do not want/are unable to travel and others are concerned about being in hospitals or medical settings.

The FDA also last week sent out new advice urging companies to focus more on so-called virtual trials. The entire industry is now turning its more of its attention toward combating the virus, with dozens of vaccines and antiviral treatments now in the works. These trials will, you’d imagine, fill up quickly.

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Martin Murphy, CEO of Syncona Investment Management Limited, said: “COVID-19 will have a major impact across the healthcare systems where we are running our clinical studies. Healthcare systems are working to focus their resources on managing COVID-19 patients and, as a result, certain elective procedures and clinical trials will be de-prioritised while the peak epidemic is managed. Syncona fully supports these decisions.”

It currently has a capital base of around £780 million, which it says can be used to fund its companies “through a prolonged period of widespread disruption and diligence new opportunities. “

“While COVID-19 represents an unparalleled challenge to the public health system, it is important to remember that the need for medicines in other diseases continues undiminished and, once the COVID-19 situation has stabilised, clinical development activity will continue,” it added.

Syncona’s portfolio includes a series of early- to midstage companies from cancer cell therapy companies Autolus, Quell Therapeutics and Achilles Therapeutics to gene therapy biotechs Freeline, Gyroscope Tx and SwanBio Tx.

“Syncona does not currently anticipate that these delays will have any impact to the reported valuations of our privately held companies,” it added.