Report: Woodford is diving full on into biotech with new $314M fund

Neil Woodford

High-profile U.K. investor Neil Woodford made headlines last week when he invested $25 million into Northwest Biotherapeutics ($NWBO), and that's a sign of much more to come, according to reports, as the ex-Invesco manager is planning to unveil a new fund devoted solely to emerging biotechs.

As the Financial Times reports, Woodford's new venture is expected to be a closed-end fund capped at around £200 million ($314 million), focusing on privately held biotechs. By going the closed-end route, Woodford can sell shares of the fund through an IPO and then build and manage a portfolio from there, a model that allows shareholders to exit only by selling stakes to other investors.

The move comes just 6 months after the veteran investor launched Woodford Investment Management, whose roughly £3.3 billion ($5.2 billion) equity income fund invests in large, publicly traded outfits including AstraZeneca ($AZN), of which it's a major shareholder, and Roche ($RHHBY).

Woodford's new fund will focus on much riskier bets, however. Expected to launch next year, the biotech-focused venture will operate out of Woodford's home base in Oxford, a decision based on the area's pedigree for breakthrough research and a bit of economic patriotism, Woodford told the FT.

"We have some world-class life science companies in the U.K., but some of Britain's most talented entrepreneurs end up in the U.S. because they cannot get the financial backing here," he told the newspaper. "Britain gives away its intellectual property too easily."

Woodford's move follows a wave of debuts and re-ups from biotech-minded venture funds around the world, with Polaris Partners, Arch Venture Partners, Venrock and OrbiMed--among many others--all banking billions this year alone. Biotech's recent boom has created a virtuous cycle for investors, as the still-warm market for IPOs has helped drive up the value of biopharma assets, lighting up exit signs around the industry and funneling more cash into the hands of startups.

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