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Not just a US story: three UK biotech stocks to watch

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Written by: Paloma Kubiak
02/11/2016
The biotech space has been largely dominated by US companies but one fund manager says it’s an exciting time for UK firms. Here are three UK stocks on his radar.

Polar Capital Biotechnology fund this week marked its three-year anniversary and manager, David Pinniger, says the last year in particular has been an interesting one for the sector.

Biotech has traditionally been associated with US firms but with the upcoming US election, healthcare in general has massively underperformed as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has come down hard on drug and pharmaceutical companies throughout her campaign.

But away from US biotech giants, Pinniger, whose fund typically invests in between 40 and 60 global companies, currently holds around 30% in non-US biotech firms.

Over the past couple of years, he has been allocating more outside the States and he says there are interesting opportunities in the UK which he has “not seen for a long time”.

The fund has returned 10.8% in the last year and 108% in three years, far outperforming the benchmark NASDAQ Biotechnology Index, which returned -0.08% and 66.1% respectively, according to data firm Morningstar.

The biotech sector is a niche area of investment. But with that in mind, here are three UK stocks Pinniger is excited about at the moment:

Summit

This is a small-cap, clinical-stage drug discovery and development company which looks at ways to advance the treatment of serious unmet medical needs.

It has two areas of focus: the first is on the treatment of the rare and fatal muscle wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy that affects young boys. The company is working in collaboration with chemists at Oxford University to exploit insights into developmental biology to try and eradicate the genetic error responsible for the disease.

The second area it’s focusing on is infections caused by the bacteria C. Difficile. This serious illness tends to affect older generations, mainly those who’ve had a hospital stay. Summit is currently developing an antibiotic for the infection and early clinical studies have shown positive data.

Pinniger says it’s a “really exciting area for medicine right now”.

Verona

Biopharmaceutical company Verona focuses on the development of medicines to treat respiratory diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma and cystic fibrosis.

It’s in the early to mid stages of clinical testing of a drug to help make breathing easier and data to date suggests it is helping to reduce the effect of the disease which leaves patients requiring hospitalisation.

The company achieved a tremendous amount with extremely limited financial resources under the new CEO, but over the summer, it was recapitalised substantially by a group of experienced healthcare specialist investors.

C4X Discovery

This is a small UK company with exciting drug discovery platform technologies. With big pharmaceutical companies tending to scale back early-stage discovery efforts in recent years in favour of late-stage clinical development, successful and well-regarded serial biotech entrepreneur and CEO Clive Dix is attempting to fill the gap.

The company has a variety of technologies it hopes will help the industry find exciting new biological targets for drug design as well as technologies to help design new chemical molecules to exploit new biological insights.

Pinniger says that despite it being early days, “it’s one to watch out for.”

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