Full Year 2020 Syncona Ltd Earnings Call
ST PETER PORT Jul 25, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Syncona Ltd earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 10:59:00am GMT
TEXT version of Transcript
* Christopher J. Hollowood
Syncona Limited - CIO & Managing Partner of Syncona Investment Management Ltd.
* Danny Bar-Zohar
Syncona Limited - Partner
* John Bradshaw
Syncona Limited - CFO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd.
* Martin Patrick Murphy
Syncona Limited - CEO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd.
Martin Patrick Murphy, Syncona Limited - CEO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd. 
Good morning, and welcome to Syncona's presentation for final results 2020. So this has been a year of strong progress across the business, and we've really devoted the business both in terms of strengthening our capital pool and the operational and clinical progress we've made right across the portfolio.
Coming first to the capital pool. During the year, we closed the sales of Blue Earth and Nightstar. We received cash proceeds of GBP 593 million, representing a 6.6x multiple of invested capital. That meant that we closed the year with a capital pool of GBP 767 million, which really puts the business in an excellent position to continue to support our companies over the years to come, and I think really validates the actions that we took during 2018 and 2019, really to -- time to build the Blue Earth and Nightstar companies and move them through to a divestment decision.
On the operational front, we have 9 active clinical trials, and we strengthened the teams across our portfolio. We'd like to call out that one of our programs, AUTO1, has now moved from Autolus, the lead program for the treatment of relapsed/refractory adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia, has moved into a pivotal study. And that's a key component of our strategy because the Syncona strategy is really to set up companies with the ambition and capability of taking their products late into development preferentially through to approval onto the market. Consistent with that, we've started 3 more clinic trials. And so we're seeing the progress we would expect across our portfolio in terms of taking businesses, founding them and then driving them through into the clinic.
NAV closed the year at GBP 1.2 billion or 186p per share. That was a 13.3% negative return on the previous year, which was predominantly driven by the fall in the Autolus share price.
Since the close of the year, the Autolus share price has more than doubled on the back of the movement of the AUTO1 program into a pivotal study and specifically data that was released at the recent ASCO meeting in our AUTO3 program. There will always be volatility in our companies as they move through their development processes, but we remain excited about the potential for Autolus.
And if we look at the actual valuations of the portfolio as of the 8th of June this year representing that increase in the Autolus share price, actually we would have seen about a 14% increase per share in NAV and we would have closed the year with a 200p per share NAV.
Overall, then, the companies are progressing well. We believe that the strength of our balance sheet remains differentiated, and indeed, a competitive advantage for Syncona, never more so than -- given the events of the last few months, but we think that the business continues to progress well in our overall strategy.
Moving to our platform. We leverage the capital base ready to source exceptional basic science and we do that in Europe, specifically, of course, within the U.K. And we look to find opportunities that we think could cornerstone differentiated companies.
During the year, we've added 1 company to the portfolio, that's Azeria, which we'll give you an update on progress later in the presentation. And we're in advanced stages of foundation for a new Syncona company. The Syncona team now has worked together since foundation of Syncona back in 2012, worked together for many years and we're delighted to have significantly strengthened that team with the appointments of Danny Bar-Zohar as Partner. Danny joins us from Novartis where he was the Head of Clinical Affairs; and Lorenz Mayr, who joins us as Entrepreneur in Residence. Previously, he was at GE Healthcare where he was the Chief Technology Officer. You'll be hearing from Danny later in the presentation, but both Danny and Lorenz significantly add to the capability of our team, and we're particularly glad to welcome them to the Syncona team.
The approach today has delivered significant value. And on the chart here, a chart we've shown you before, you really see the history of Syncona in numbers. In blue, you see the capital that we've invested in the ground, just under GBP 600 million since Syncona was founded in 2012. And in orange, you see the value that has been created. This is a strong track record. And it's worth calling out that the value increases that we show here are really represented by cash gains generated from the divestments of Blue Earth and Nightstar. The remaining life science portfolio is valued essentially at 1x invested capital with a valuation of just shy of GBP 480 million. We're excited about that portfolio. Chris Hollowood, the Chief Investment Officer, will tell you about that later and we think that there are many opportunities to continue to grow value on that portfolio.
Moving now to the COVID situation. Clearly, COVID has represented a once-in-a-generation or even the multi-generation event for societies, economies, and of course, for health care systems. We recognize the impact of COVID, I think, rather early and indeed moved to remote working in advance of the U.K. government's lockdown. And that system has worked well. We've had to adapt to that, but we did it to clearly protect our team and ensure that we were able to implement effective remote working. And indeed, that has continued to work well.
To note that, we are continuing to look at sourcing the opportunities as referenced by the progress we've made towards closing a new investment during the next few weeks, and we are actively working on new opportunities. Of course, it will be challenging to do that. There will be challenges represented by those opportunities, but we believe it will be possible to continue to operate the business, and we think that the remote working is working well for the team.
Of course, we have, we believe, much expertise that can be leveraged to be productive in the COVID fight. We've looked to provide that expertise to the Wellcome Trust and to the U.K. government where it's made sense to do -- where it has made sense to do so.
The annual charitable donation that we make to -- is a core part of the Syncona's mission. And we have, indeed, in '20 -- last year, made a donation of GBP 4.3 million. This year, in respect of the last financial year, we will be making a donation of GBP 4.6 million. Given the pressure that many of our charities are under, we're looking to bring forward that donation, indeed, we'll make that in June rather than the usual September.
All in all then, the Syncona team, I think, has navigated well and there's been relatively limited disruption to our core business.
Clearly, we've looked very hard on the portfolio side and we've worked with all of our portfolio companies to conduct a bottom-up analysis right across that portfolio, looking at different scenarios for how COVID might impact their activities and the impact on both cash requirements of those businesses and milestone delivery.
We think for the preclinical companies, there will be relatively limited impact. But clearly, those companies with clinical trials, what we've seen is health care systems quite rightly focus their resources on treating and caring for patients during the peak times in the pandemic. And we believe that, that will, and indeed, has had an impact on clinical trials and there will be some delays identified as a consequence of that.
We believe those delays will be more limited in the oncology setting where the lead for treatment is more acute and where patients have typically very limited, or indeed, no treatment options. And in those settings, we believe trials will either have continued or will resume relatively quickly. And indeed, to evidence that we've seen both in Autolus continued dosing in the AUTO3 program. And we were very pleased to announce around a week ago that Achilles have dosed their first -- their first melanoma patient with their cNeT product.
For companies where there are -- in the non-oncology setting, we think there will be some delays, but we do believe, ultimately, our businesses are positioned well to navigate through these.
Overall then, COVID has been a significant disruption for economies and the societies. We think that our businesses are well positioned to navigate that. They've taken on board the impact. I think we have good plans in place. And of course, we retain a strong capital pool, which will allow us to sensibly, and where appropriate, aggressively continue to drive value in our businesses as we manage through the disruption.
What I'd like to do now is pass to Chris Hollowood, our Chief Investment Officer, to give you an update on the portfolio.
Christopher J. Hollowood, Syncona Limited - CIO & Managing Partner of Syncona Investment Management Ltd. 
Thank you, Martin. So this year has been one of consolidation across our generation 1 companies in clinical advancement and our generation 2 companies. The successful sales of Nightstar and Blue Earth have provided us with the balance sheet cash to aggressively scale the remainder of the Syncona portfolio and also weather the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a platform for growth into the medium term.
All our generation 2 companies have made clinical progress with Freeline publishing across 2 programs, Gyroscope completing its dose escalation in its Phase I/II trial and Achilles dosing its first patient just post year-end. In addition, Autolus announced they will progress AUTO1 for ALL to pivotal trial.
This is important since meaningful NAV advances in the coming years will be driven by clinical data and the progress of trials towards registration and Syncona is the biggest shareholder in 4 exciting businesses, all generating clinical data now.
In addition, whilst our global reputation, capital base and ambition for our companies grows, so does the quality and experience of the executives we're able to attract to the group. You'll hear from Danny later that the portfolio companies have 2 main globally competitive hires into key positions.
Autolus has made strong clinical progress during the year and post period end. The company has reported positive data and it's also 1 program for the treatment of adult ALL decided to progress the program into a registration study. It also released data from AUTO3, the DLBCL, which shows impressive efficacy, and what's more, shows efficacy without severe side effects.
If you look at the panel on the right, what you'll see is a patient that's received AUTO3. Prior to treatment, you can see the bulky lymphoma. And 1 month after treatment, you can see that has been completely cleared, and it's profound efficacy. These are small patient numbers to date, but encouraging nonetheless. And the lack of side effects means this program can probably move to the outpatient setting where the commercial opportunity is very substantial.
The company has been able to progress its clinical trials despite COVID so it's had limited impact on its operation from the COVID pandemic.
And the company is well positioned to deliver on the Syncona strategy, which is to move programs into late-stage development where the value creation is steep and hopefully all the way to registration.
Freeline has 2 programs in the clinic and it's reported data on both during the year. In hemophilia B, it showed data suggesting that it's the only company globally that can deliver activity in the normal range for hemophilia B patients. What's more, being able to deliver that activity exemplifies the power of this platform where the protein levels that can be generated are much, much higher than previous platforms. This is going to be required as the company moves out of hemophilia into lysosomal storage disorders. And the first of those programs, Fabry, released clinical data this year as well. And 1 patient has shown that it is possible to produce GLA levels, that's the missing protein, from the livers of these Fabry patients. So technically possible. We remain optimistic, as we dose-escalated that trial, we'll get those protein levels higher with dramatic clinical impact.
It's also been a year of transition for Freeline. We have moved to a commercially experienced CEO from a more development stage CEO. Theresa Heggie joined the business just after year-end. She joins from Alnylam where she was Head of Europe and Canada. And prior to that, she was at Shire where she had direct experience of commercial products they had in Fabry and Gaucher. She is a hugely experienced operator and the ideal profile to drive this company's next phase of growth.
In addition, as the clinical trials become later stage and more complex and more programs move into clinic, the clinical leadership in the company moves to the upscale and Julie Krop joined as CMO of the business at the beginning of April.
COVID has had more of an impact here. In hemophilia B, the impact has not been that severe as the critical part of pivotal sits more with regulatory interactions and manufacturing. But in Fabry, there is likely to be delay of 2 to 3 quarters.
The company's made substantial progress. There are very few companies on the planet that have 2 systemic gene therapy programs in the clinic on an AAV platform and the progress of this platform's continued clinical success will drive growth.
At Gyroscope, the company completed a Series B in September of this financial year and that has funded the business to build out its team, build out the platform, including its proprietary surgical platform, and advances program based on 2 dose escalations. That dose-escalation phase was completed this year and data should be shared within the financial year coming.
The company hired a Chief Medical Officer, Nadia Waheed. Nadia was previously Director of the Boston Image Reading Center, Consultant in New England Eye Center at Tufts University in Boston. She is a world leader in dry AMD. And the fact that she was willing to leave her academic position to join this company in an executive position is a testament to the excitement she has leading this therapy.
There have been some COVID impact here with a delay of 1 to 2 quarters, but the company will get its actual Phase II trials up and running this financial year as well as report the data from its initial trial.
It's been a good year for Achilles. During the year, they completed GBP 100 million financing, including money from blue-chip investors, particularly U.S. investors that set the company up with a very strong capital structure.
They've also strengthened the leadership, Sergio Quezada, who is one of the key founders of the business, has joined the company as Chief Scientific Officer. Now you'll recall that Achilles is developing a next-generation TIL therapy, it's a cell therapy for solid tumors. And what it does, it targets markers on the cells that should be present on all of the tumor cells and none of the healthy cells.
During the year, a company using a similar technology, Iovance, which is listed in the U.S., reported proof-of-concept data in a first-generation TIL therapy both in lung and melanoma, which was very encouraging. It provides validation for the Achilles approach and it's notable that Iovance is valued at $5 billion.
Post the year-end, Achilles announced it’s dosed its first patient and that's a patient in their melanoma study. It's a remarkable achievement, given the fact that this was done under the cloud of the COVID pandemic and also shows that the company is able to tell the cells from a patient and manipulate them to become a TIL therapeutic product and deliver it back to the patient.
Across the rest of the portfolio, we've been focused on building out the team and building the platforms that can be leveraged to deliver multiple products into the clinic and to the late stage of the clinical development and hopefully registration. These will not be near-term drivers of growth, but they will set Syncona up for NAV appreciation over the medium and long term.
Of note, SwanBio completed an expanded Series A of $75 million. OMASS also completed an expanded Series A. And even in these early stage businesses, we are attracting world-class executives. This was not always true at Syncona at the beginning, but shows how far the ambition and capital base we have has gone to attracting these key people.
Iain McGill joined as CEO of Quell. He was previously at EUSA prior to the acquisition by Jazz and post the acquisition ran Jazz's European business.
Steve Zelenkofske has joined as Chief Medical Officer at Swan. Steve was previously at Achillion, which was sold to Alexion, and prior to that was at UniQure where he was responsible for the design and implementation of their pivotal trial in hemophilia B, a gene therapy trial. So someone with exquisite, relevant experience for what we're trying to do.
These preclinical companies are relatively unscathed by COVID. They're normally relying on contract research organizations and contract manufacturing organizations, which have remained largely operational during the COVID pandemic. And so key programs have remained on track.
Our balance sheet means our companies can still advance despite the turbulence. COVID uncertainty has brought the benefit of a strong strategic capital base into sharp relief.
In addition, our increased network of strong health care specialist investors means we have partners available to us to scale our businesses where it's appropriate to do so, this is being best exemplified by Achilles this year. And the teams we're putting into the companies are getting ever stronger and that will improve execution and strategic judgment, which will feed through into growth as well.
We are focused on high unmet medical need and dramatic clinical outcomes, which brings value to both patients and payers. Whilst NAV may decouple for short periods, the fundamental driver of growth is the successful advancement of these programs late into development. Syncona has never been in a stronger position in multiple clinical programs held across 4 different companies addressing huge unmet medical needs, such as lung cancer and age-related macular degeneration, the biggest cause of blindness in the western world.
I'm going to hand you back to Martin to remind you of our unique model in founding and building companies.
Martin Patrick Murphy, Syncona Limited - CEO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd. 
Thanks, Chris. What I'm now going to do is just cover again for you how we -- the process that we go through in order to find new companies.
First of all, what do we look for in a scientific asset? Typically, we've been working with a globally leading academic. This will be typically someone who has worked 20, maybe 30, sometimes 40 years in their field and it's a globally significant person in that field. They would have typically identified some technology with some associated intellectual property that they think has a patient application.
We then need to put that asset through a set of filters to determine whether we think we can build a company around that. And the core filters are represented on this chart.
First of all, we look for technologies that we think, if they're successfully developed, can deliver transformational efficacy for patients in areas where currently they're poorly served. Syncona is not interested in technologies that provide modest or rather incremental improvements in outcome for patients. We're looking for things that can really move the needle for those patients and the physicians that care to them.
We always look to see that there's a defined commercial lead program around which we can build the company. And that means an opportunity where we could take that technology, define it into a product, figure out a plan that will allow us to develop that product over time, and ultimately, deliver it as long as the development is successful and the regulatory process is successful into the market.
In an ideal world, what we're looking for is also a pipeline potential so that beyond that lead program, there are follow-on programs that can follow in the tailwind of that lead program.
Ideally, and one of the things that we focused on is really these third-wave technologies. Danny Bar-Zohar is going to give you his view on those in the next section. What we're really looking for is to work on platform -- work on technologies where either there is no incumbent or where the path is highly differentiated to the existing things that have gone before to really allow us to have a strong first-mover advantage in building these companies.
Ideally, we work in therapeutic areas where we have deep expertise. Typically, that will be oncology or ophthalmology, and increasingly, CNS. But we look to leverage the things that we've learned before.
And we seek to develop companies in -- to develop products that target patient segments where they're well defined, that allows patients to be identified with a high probability of potentially responding to the therapy that has benefits both for accelerated development and to allow regulatory pathways that are potentially more expedited, but it also enable potentially targeted commercialization if these products are successful.
So that gives you a flavor of what we look for in these assets.
And in practice, how does that work? Well, typically, we identify a new set of technology that we think has potential for industrial application. We would then dig into that technology, read the fundamental literature, approach the key opinion leaders in the space and look to work with them proactively to understand their work and to begin to figure out whether, indeed, it could be built into a company. Typically, that process would take 9 to 12 months of diligence. It would involve technical, intellectual property, commercial, financial, of course, legal and licensing diligence fields. But the outcome would be to have a commercial opportunity identified and a plan that may lay out the map forward for that all the way to the clinic, but with high resolution over the first few years to allow us to structure a sensible investment.
One of the things we've learned as we've built these companies is the importance of building our teams in parallel as we're growing, as we're working on these opportunities. A great example of that, of course, it's Quell Therapeutics, the business that we founded a couple of years ago. And this year, we were really thrilled when Iain McGill has joined as the CEO of that business. Iain is a very experienced senior executive in the biotechnology field and pretty much joined that company on day 1 of its foundation, really as a consequence of us working with him in parallel as we are working on the diligence process.
Of course, once we put all those ingredients together, that's really just the start of the process, if you like, that's crossing the start line. But that gives you a flavor of how we look to found these companies and our hands-on involvement in building them.
And this year, we've been working very hard on a new company that we would expect to close in the next few weeks. It really leverages a previous -- a piece of seed financing that we placed with Professor Stuart Forbes in Edinburgh and who works in the field of cell therapy, particularly a type of immune cell called the macrophage.
And back in 2018, through our Wellcome Trust network, we identified the work that Stuart was doing and engaged with him and began to develop a research plan that we felt could derisk the technology for its commercial application and where Stuart is particularly focused is on the use of macrophages for the treatment of end-stage liver disease.
We are highly enthused and positive about Stuart's work, but we didn't feel that technology was quite derisked enough to merit a full company build-out. And so back in 2018, we put down a small financing, really a seed financing, a collaboration with Stuart effectively, of GBP 1.4 million to enable that technology to be worked through a set of key technical milestones that we felt would need to be delivered to justify the commercial viability of a commercial company.
Well, over the last 9 to 12 months, those milestones have been delivered and Ed Hodgkin and Gonzalo Garcia and our team have been very active in terms of writing that plan and we now have a commercial plan, and indeed, a structured investment, which has been signed off by the Syncona team and we are in the late stages of closing that investment and would look to come and update you with that at some point during the next few months.
All in all, we think this is an opportunity to found a globally leading, and indeed, we think the first engineered macrophage cell therapy company for the treatment of liver disease. And we think this is an exceptional opportunity and really is a perfect example of how we think about founding companies.
What I'm going to do now is pass to our newest team member, Danny Bar-Zohar, to give you a view on the general market environment and where our technologies sit within that market context. Over to Danny.
Danny Bar-Zohar, Syncona Limited - Partner 
Thanks, Martin. First, it's a real pleasure to talk with you today. I'm Danny Bar-Zohar, and I have recently joined the Syncona team after 15 years in the pharma industry. In my last role, I was heading clinical development and analytics for Novartis, and before that, headed neuroscience, touching and bringing to patients therapeutic options from small molecules through antibodies, peptides and even gene therapy.
So you may ask why join Syncona? Well, it was actually a sort of combination between me being eager to have an impact even earlier in the life cycle of drug development and the fact that Syncona is so close to my taste, the closest to cutting edge science, enabling smart-yet-bold investment decisions.
In addition, in my years in big pharma, I also became aware of the fact that great science and smart decisions should also be followed by flawless execution. So Syncona's mode of operation being very hands-on in setting up companies, getting things right from the beginning, really attracted me.
You may also ask why now? Being closely involved from the big pharma side in advanced therapeutic platforms as well as new methodologies in trial designs and also watching the pressure that each and every big pharma has on its R&D productivity metrics, I see more and more opportunities for high efficacy and smarter development plans that will enable much smaller companies make the difference. I'll touch upon that later.
I wanted to take a minute now to recap for you the current state of the landscape and why we remain so excited about this third wave and then I believe we could provide some more color on how Syncona's investment philosophy fits within the broader context and particularly the forces acting today in the life science and health care industry.
This slide is definitely not aimed at teaching the history of pharmaceuticals, and I know Martin and Chris have already spent time talking to you about our views on the third wave of health care. What started as the first wave of small molecules is not likely to disappear, and to a large extent, this is also true for larger molecules.
Now on top of that, what we see today under the umbrella of the third wave, i.e., advanced biologics, cell and gene therapies, is not going to be just another single wave. Already today, some of the cell and gene technology that made the entire world so excited is becoming somehow outdated where more advanced technology, cell engineering and smarter product constructs are pursued in leading academic centers. I think it would be reasonable to expect that iterations number 2, 3 and 4 of this third wave will reach patients at much faster pace as compared to the innovation in small molecules and monoclonals.
And more specifically, on the gene therapy front, we have started moving from treating monogenic diseases to more complex and also more common polygenic ones. From being restricted to relatively small genes to bigger ones with a more advanced minigene information from replacing genes to actually even third-generation gene editing and we are also not far away from using gene therapy technology to convert living cells in a targeted manner to factories of proteins, which are needed at that particular site.
Now on the cell therapy front, the advances of cell engineering, CAR technology and understanding of cancer genomics enables us to bring higher potency cells, be it T cells or others, to the heart of the pathology in a precise and personalized manner. But there are tons of other opportunities as it is humbling to think that, today, only 3% of the human protein sequencing map is targeted by medicines, more than 1,200 druggable proteins have even not yet been looked at. When it comes to RNA, which is supposed to code for the proteins, approximately 2/3 of it does not code for anything, we know that. But it's there and we know that it is relevant. So definitely, breakthroughs are to be made.
I thought it would also be helpful to touch on the topics of the day in our sector. Price pressure is huge, putting more barriers on access. Attrition rates between discovery and proof-of-concept and from proof-of-concept to pivotal studies, et cetera, are still quite high if you look back historically. And R&D cost is a topic that everyone is struggling with. Now the R&D part is from the lens of the big pharma. For us, it is actually the time and capital needed to reach critical go/no-go milestones.
Now we all know that the era of expecting premium price based on a few percent less adverse events for a new product, this is over. That said, so are the days when our target product profiles were something along the lines of "safe and well tolerated." We must have a clear end-in-mind approach. And if we claim to be best-in-class, we should have a great, preferably quantifiable reason to believe that our drug will beat standard of care and I mean the standard of care of the future, not that of today.
This is why the third wave is so important as we are talking about areas of innovation, which bring new possibilities and potentially transformative outcomes for patients. Now this is of critical importance. All of these advanced capsid technology cassettes, CAR construct must be tied to a clear improvement in patient outcomes. Would it get even more provocatively, the halo of a cell or a gene therapy is itself is not likely to enable us the free ticket pricing-wise just because it sounds transformative. It needs to demonstrate clear value to patients and to the health care system.
So given that we need to have an end-in-mind approach that is best suited to our investment philosophy actually, there are other elements that we need to be aware of beyond drug platforms. There is another item in our toolboxes we have started to use increasingly, which is high-quality data sets, clinical as well as biomarkers, and deploying very advanced analytics on them. Everything from candidate selection of a molecule or a gene construct to the clinical site selection in a clinical trial should be data-driven, I'll explain that. We want to find the right segment of patients that will have 80% effect on a disease progression metric, not 22% when it's diluted.
An example for that could easily be the variety of anti-PD-L1s that are aimed at the population, which expresses PD-L1 above a certain cutoff as they would benefit most and suffer least adverse events.
Now doing so, everything will work for you. Once effect size is high, statistics will tell you that studies will be shorter, smaller, lower capital will need to be invested and eventually better access with payers. And in certain disease areas, given that we want to be fast and furious to get to patients, we should interrogate data in a way that will enable somehow even to rewrite the textbooks of medicines, come up with a novel endpoint or a surrogate that will be endorsed by clinicians and regulators to bring drugs faster to patients.
There is another aspect that I would mention here. Fortunately, for mankind, there are not so many binary diseases, coupled with transformative therapies like in type 1 spinal muscular atrophy where a gene therapy can actually flatten the curve of death to 100% survival from a natural history of 0% survival in 2 years. Most of them, even the single monogenic ones, are complex, heterogeneous in their clinical presentation, fluctuating. So all in all, much more challenging for the drug developer.
But our approach, which is science-based, working together with clinicians, and where needed, with patients, being fact-driven and oriented towards transforming care should win.
Now to close this, I wholeheartedly believe that Syncona sitting in this nerve center of clinical and basic science, being execution-focused has unique opportunities to actually marry technologies that are expected to lead to transformative benefit/risk profile for patients with advances in disease understanding, using sophisticated data sets to enable low capital investments in clinical trials that will showcase value. Being backed by the tailwinds of sciences as well as our core behavior will result in small biotechs bringing products to market all the way through.
Thank you for listening. Now I'd like to pass back to John to give you an update on last year's financials.
John Bradshaw, Syncona Limited - CFO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd. 
Thank you, Danny. Turning to the financial performance for the year. NAV at the period end was 186p per share, a decline of 13% over the year with GBP 91 million aggregate gains on the sales of Blue Earth and the write-up of the Achilles outweighed by a GBP 281 million decline in the value of Autolus where the share price fell from $31 to $6 at year-end.
That has already been highlighted, we continue to believe in the company's strong fundamentals and the share price has improved significantly since year-end and has indeed been over $13 recently.
In terms of inflows, we received proceeds from the sales of Blue Earth and Nightstar, which netted approximately GBP 593 million. And we ended the year with a capital pool of GBP 767 million.
The restructuring of the management of the capital pool was broadly completed in the first half of the year with the capital pool moved into cash, short-term U.K. treasury bills and fixed income funds.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the increased market volatility that we saw, we moved quickly to preserve liquidity and protect the capital pool, and we ended the year with 90% of the capital pool in cash and short-term U.K. treasury bills.
At the end of the year, we had 9 companies in the portfolio spread across a range of development stages with all of the companies, except for Autolus and Achilles, valued at cost. In aggregate, the portfolio is valued at just under 1x invested capital.
While we have seen a disruption to our portfolio of companies short-term business activities, we do not currently consider that the COVID-19 crisis will have long-term implications for their business plans. And we don't anticipate that the current delays experienced will have an impact on the reported valuations of our privately held companies.
Our portfolio is scaling rapidly, and we deployed GBP 206 million of capital in the year funding milestone payments and new financings across the portfolio. Companies become more capital-intensive as they progress through the clinic, and the level of capital we've deployed this year is reflective of their progress against key clinical and operational milestones.
We invested an aggregate of $39 million into Autolus and invested in 1 new Syncona company, Azeria Therapeutics.
All 3 of our generation 2 companies contributed significant financings in the year. We were the sole institutional investor in Gyroscope and Freeline's financings and we cornerstoned the Achilles Series B, which was supported by a number of leading global health care investors. And that financing was priced at 90% uplift to our holding value.
Finally, towards the end of the year, we committed to 2 expanded Series A financings in our generation 3 and 4 companies, OMASS and SwanBio.
Certainty of funding is key to delivering our strategy. It means we can take long-term decisions and have the flexibility and control to manage our portfolio whilst retaining significant ownership stakes.
As I've said, life science companies are capital intensive. And as our portfolio scales and progresses through the clinic, those capital requirements will increase as we've seen this year. But we're disciplined about the decision-making in this area to ensure that we not only manage risk at the Syncona level, but also the capital and financing requirements of the portfolio companies. There are a series of factors that we take into consideration, including the size of the opportunity, the size of our balance sheet, our risk appetite and the market environment at any point in time.
We may be the sole institutional investor as the portfolio company enters the clinic, or in some examples, we'll have brought in like-minded investors earlier in the clinical process. Gyroscope, where we're the sole institutional investor; and Achilles, where we syndicated earlier, are good examples of this approach and the disciplined process that we apply to it.
As has been mentioned previously, we've undertaken an exercise of senior leadership teams across the portfolio to model the impact of the COVID-19 disruption across different scenarios to make sure that we have a clear view of potential impacts on those businesses and what their future capital requirements might be.
The strength of our capital pool is clearly a key strategic advantage for us, enables us to continue to fund our companies to progress their business plans. The absolute level of capital deployment that we'll see in the current financial year will be dependent on the progress of the existing portfolio companies, the opportunities that we see in the investment pipeline and our access to third-party capital. So we would expect to deploy between GBP 150 million and GBP 250 million of capital in the current financial year.
And now I hand back to Martin for the outlook and the summary.
Martin Patrick Murphy, Syncona Limited - CEO of Syncona Investment Management Ltd. 
Thank you, John. Looking forward then to the outlook for our companies. We think the portfolio is very nicely poised with multiple catalysts ahead.
Moving through the companies in terms of Autolus. We've spoken and Chris gave you a more detailed view on the progress of that company, but we would be looking to the decision for the AUTO3 program in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma to move into Phase II. We expect that to come in the third quarter of this year -- calendar this year.
We would also expect to see, during the financial year, we'd expect to see the initial Phase I data on the AUTO4 program.
From Freeline, we've made exciting progress on the hemophilia program. We expect to see more data there, and indeed, to begin to see more patient exposure in the Fabry's program.
Gyroscope have completed the dose-escalation phase of the Phase I/II study for dry AMD and we expect to see that data, and we'll look to be commencing the formal Phase II trial in that setting.
It's exciting times for Achilles. They dosed their first patient in melanoma, and we would expect to be seeing data through 2021 in the melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer studies. And given the market interest in TIL therapies, and of course, Achilles being a next-generation TIL therapy, we really think that data could be -- we're excited about that data and look forward to seeing it.
Swan is making very strong progress, and we'll look to complete its first clinical manufacturing batch.
OMASS is a company that we're still in an active build mode and is looking to define their program of targets and begin the preclinical development of their lead program.
Coming to Anaveon and Quell, 2 companies that have made terrific progress in the last year, both of them have nominated candidates in their lead programs: Anaveon in oncology, this is an IL-2 CD122 selective agonist; and Quell has a candidate for the treatment of rejection in liver transplant. Both those programs, we'd expect to move into their clinical studies in financial year 2022.
And finally, in Azeria, this was a new deal that we closed during the year. It's a structured investment, the first tranche is GBP 6.5 million to really validate the core investment thesis behind that program, and we would expect to see that data during this year.
In summary then, I think the business is in very good shape. We set out a strategy to grow our portfolio to a sustainable 15 to 20 companies. We're on track to do that. We look to do that at the rate of 2 to 3 new companies per year. And ultimately, over a rolling 10 years, what we're looking to do is to deliver 3 to 5 of those companies all the way to market to access the steepest part of the value creation curve. And that's how we think we can really begin to generate exciting returns for our shareholders.
We do think the capital base, as we've talked to you many times over the last few years, is important. And indeed, in the COVID environment, it has never been more important and I think provides a highly differentiated position for us to provide resilience to our companies and continue to grow value in those companies over the years to come.
And finally, the Syncona Foundation. Our charitable commitment to the Syncona Foundation is at the heart of Syncona's business. We're delighted to be making a GBP 4.6 million commitment to those charities in June this year, brought forward from September, to reflect the current cash shortages in many of those charities. And we've actually increased our annual donation this year from our annual commitment to 35 basis points, 0.35% of NAV, up from 0.3%, so it's a strong commitment to those charities, and we balanced that by actually a matching offset to reduction in our fees such that this will be neutral for shareholders.
All in all, then, I think it's an exciting time for Syncona. We're in active build mode, and we look -- we're well financed. Our businesses are in good strength, and we're well set to continue to create value for shareholders over the years to come.
We will be having a Q&A for shareholders today. And if you would like to participate in that, if you go on to our website, please register and we look forward to receiving your questions then and doing our best to answer.
Other than that, thank you for listening in and look forward to catching up with you, hopefully, in person at some point over the next few months.