Autolus is a clinical-stage biotechnology business at the forefront of a revolution in cancer treatment. The company was founded in 2014 based on advanced cell programming technology pioneered at University College London and operates in the fast-developing and rapidly growing immuno-oncology sector.
The business focuses on developing and commercialising a novel class of immuno-oncology treatments known as CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cells) therapies, which harness the power of a patient’s immune system to combat cancers.
We were introduced to Autolus by Syncona and, following more than six months of due diligence, we first invested in March 2016, leading the company’s series B funding round. The position has been held in the Woodford Equity Income Fund and Woodford Patient Capital Trust ever since. The company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in June 2018.
Investment case summary
The investment case in Autolus centres on its fast-evolving, next generation technology for the development of CAR-T therapies, which are personalised treatments that can be game-changing for cancer patients. This new area of oncology has been attracting increasing attention recently, as evidenced by a series of deals in which major pharma companies have acquired exposure to CAR-T specialists such as Kite Pharma and Juno Therapeutics.
We believe that Autolus has a compelling technological advantage over other CAR-T businesses. By using dual-targeting CAR-T’s – engineering an immune cell to recognise two cancer cell-specific features, not just one – the treatment is less likely to result in the cancer escaping and reoccurring, one of the most common reasons for the current CAR-T therapies to fail. Autolus has already built an attractive portfolio of dual-targeting therapies which includes AUTO3 – the company’s potential treatment for certain types of blood cancers, and AUTO2 – its potential treatment for multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer). The company is also developing multiple other features such as a ‘safety switch’ to help reduce the risks of unwanted side effects, and a feature with the ability to recognise and challenge a hostile tumour environment that is trying to resist CAR-T cells. Meanwhile, AUTO1 is also demonstrating encouraging progress in clinical trials as a potential therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, with a superior toxicity profile to existing treatments.
From our perspective, the technology and drug candidates under development look fundamentally undervalued. The company has a broad, extensive pipeline and an impressive strategic plan of attack. The price tags attached to the recent acquisitions of other CAR-T businesses shine a very positive light on the future potential of this exciting field and, given its technical edge, on Autolus specifically.
|Income Focus Fund||2.01%|
|Equity Income Fund||3.54%|
|Patient Capital Trust||9.33%|
As at 31 March 2019
Today Autolus announced that it has filed for a proposed initial public offering (IPO) in the United States, intending to list on Nasdaq. An IPO has multiple benefits for Autolus, not least raising new funds for further business and pipeline development and increasing its profile within the biotechnology sector. We believe this is a very positive development for the company. A public listing can represent a natural next-step and a meaningful milestone for any early-stage company as it progresses towards commercialisation.
8 May 2018