Woodford readies a $300M wager on struggling U.K. biotech sector

LONDON--High-profile British fund manager Neil Woodford rolled out plans to raise about $300 million for an investment trust that will bet heavily on the U.K.'s struggling biotech sector. 

Dubbed the Woodford Patient Capital Trust, the investment maven is planning to list on the London Stock Exchange in order to raise a big chunk of capital for a sector that he's grown increasingly enamored with. The one-time Invesco wiz has raised billions for his Woodford Equity Income fund, which has already gambled on biotechs like Northwest Biotherapeutics as well as blue chip giants like AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Roche ($RHHBY). 

This new fund will wager on a slate of large public companies and then start laying bets on both private as well as public companies still engaged in early-stage development. While traditional venture groups have been enjoying a heyday in the U.S. with a string of exits and billions of dollars raised from institutional investors for new VC funds, Woodford will be traveling a radically different road with his publicly traded trust.

In a statement Woodford says that the trust will target a 10%-plus annual return for investors.

Once in play, Woodford will be catering to a biotech sector that's well known for some great science at leading academic centers in the Golden Triangle--London, Oxford and Cambridge--but with nothing like the financial infrastructure now in place in the U.S. Up to now, at least, investors in the U.K. have refused to gamble on biotech to the same proportional extent as the U.S. industry has enjoyed. A string of high profile biotech failures several years ago has made it difficult for companies to mount a large-scale invasion of the LSE similar to the boom Nasdaq has seen. And that has made it difficult for execs looking to raise money for startups. 

Given his track record and profile in the U.K. market, though, Woodford evidently believes he can buck that trend. And he's likely to be seen as something of a godsend to companies that enjoy top science and meager budgets.

"British scientists are brilliant and world-leading inventors," Woodford told The Telegraph, "but they are absolutely crap at translating their discoveries into commercial success."

- here's the release
- read the story in The Telegraph