The Mystery Sugar Daddy in Biotech Research


When you think about capital venture funding groups – those big sugar daddies who, for a piece of the action, help fund high tech start ups – you usually think of the posh outfits in Silicon Valley, or Wall Street bankers.

WC wants to introduce you to a different sugar daddy. We’ll call them “Group X.”

Group X put about $129 million in Juno Therapeutics (JUNO), amounting to about a 25% stake. It paid off very well. It’s about a 25% interest, in Juno. Juno has been a frontrunner in the CAR-T therapy market, a significant component of new cancer treatments. The Motley Fool recently reported on the company’s fourth-quarter financial results and red-hot pipeline of new drugs, with stock rising 10 percent or more on the news. The company also has a $1 billion collaboration with Celgene Corp. (CELG) that’s just starting. As part of that deal, Celgene took on a 9.1 million share stake in the company. Group X’s investment in Juno is now worth $1.04 billion.

Group X invested $153 million in Denali Therapeutics in July 2015. The company, headquartered in South San Francisco, was founded by three former Genentech (RHHBY) researchers, and focuses on translational research to develop drugs for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and others. The research is reportedly going well, has attracted still more venture funding, and Denali Thereaputics is doing pretty well.

In November, Group X invested a little over $80 million into Codiak BioSciences, located in Woburn, Mass. The company’s chief executive officer is Doug Williams, who left Biogen in July to found and run the company.  Codiak BioSciences focuses on exosomes, which for a long time were considered to be cells’ garbage cans, whose job was to carry unnecessary cellular materials out of cells. But Codiak research has shown exosomes act as messengers, taking information to distant tissues, and may have the potential to carry cell-specific proteins, lipids and other genetic material—and potentially therapeutic drugs.

There’s a pretty good clue to the identity of Group X in the names of the three startups it has funded: Juno, Codiak and Denali.

Group X is the Alaska Permanent Fund. And it’s helping support some pretty important research and development in biotech. And getting a very good rate of return. Cool!

Please don’t tell Rep. Lynn Gattis.

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