Jessica Franks, Head of Retail Investment Products at Octopus Investments, looks at an exciting EIS-backed company.
Most vaccines – including those protecting against Covid-19 – must be kept on ice and within a precise temperature range to work. Vaccination programmes therefore rely on an unbroken “cold chain” of refrigeration, from production through to distribution and storage. Any break in this chain can spoil vaccines.
How big a problem is it?
Research from the World Health Organisation back in 2003 estimated that up to half of vaccines were going to waste every year.
More recently, in 2019, research revealed the industry loses approximately $35 billion annually because of failures in temperature-controlled transportation.
Innovation is underway to tackle the problem and the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated this.
One business trying to help solve the cold chain problem is Imophoron, a health technology company set up by highly experienced co-founders Professor Imre Berger and Frederic Garzoni.
Imophoron is a Bristol-based biotechnology business developing a vaccine platform called ADDomerTM. This platform facilitates the development of vaccines that remain stable at regular temperatures of up to 55°C, removing the need for refrigeration. It also intends to enable vaccines to be administered via the nose, facilitating over-the-counter vaccine delivery in the future.
Imophoron has the potential to revolutionise the industry, reducing waste, helping vaccines to be developed more rapidly, and improving the distribution of vaccines in countries with warm climates.
The EIS opportunity
Imophoron is an excellent example of a company the Octopus Ventures EIS Service has backed which is aiming to transform an industry and improve people’s lives.
The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) was introduced by the UK government to support long term investment in young businesses which are important to the health of the UK economy.
For a company to qualify for EIS funding, it must be in the early stages of its growth journey. The company must also be unquoted (which includes being AIM-listed for these purposes).
Buying the shares of these kinds of companies can come with significant growth potential because they’re at the beginning of their growth curve. However, it also comes with significant risk to target that growth.
To compensate for some of the risk of investing in early-stage businesses, EIS-qualifying investments allow investors to claim several tax reliefs.
These tax reliefs can be useful for a client’s tax planning and include:
- Income tax relief on up to 30% of the amount invested.
- Any growth in the value of EIS-qualifying shares is tax-free, which can be powerful as EIS companies often have significant growth potential.
- Losses made on an EIS company can be offset against either a capital gains tax bill or an income tax bill, depending on which better suits their needs. (Loss relief can be claimed even if overall portfolio performance is positive.)
- If an investor decides to reinvest the capital gain on the sale of another asset into an EIS-qualifying company, they can defer the capital gains tax due until their EIS shares are sold.
- EIS shares held at death should qualify for Business Property Relief if they have been held for at least two years, meaning they can be passed to beneficiaries free from inheritance tax.
High growth potential means high risk
Investing in EIS companies is high risk. An investment could fall in value, potentially to nil, and investors may not get back the full amount invested.
There are also tax, volatility and liquidity risks to consider.
Shares in unquoted companies cannot easily be sold, as it may take time to find a buyer. When investing in an EIS portfolio, an exit is only possible when each individual company is sold. So a client’s investment should be considered illiquid and a long term investment.
The shares of unquoted companies can also fall or rise in value more sharply than shares in larger, more established companies.
A number of EIS tax reliefs depend on companies maintaining their EIS-qualifying status for at least three years. It is possible that a company might cease to be EIS-qualifying and EIS reliefs previously granted would need to be paid back. HMRC could change existing tax legislation. Tax treatment also depends on personal circumstances.
Where to learn more
It takes skill and experience to invest in early-stage companies, as these businesses are more difficult to research and access. It’s also more likely that a small, less established business will fail.
For these reasons, many clients choose to access smaller company investments through a specialist investment manager. This way, a client benefits from the manager’s expertise, track record and pipeline of investments.
Octopus is synonymous with smaller company investing. We’ve been making these investments for more than two decades and in that time have invested more than £2 billion in early-stage companies and helped to nurture early-stage companies by providing practical and strategic support so they can reach their full potential.
We have an ideal next step where you can learn a little more about early-stage investing.
You’ll be able to watch a short interview with an adviser on why he likes early-stage investments for his clients. You’ll also read about the four key reasons why advisers should consider recommending early-stage investments and learn more about the tax-efficient investments which offer access to opportunities like Imophoron.
Imophoron is an example company which has been included for illustrative purposes only and is not an investment recommendation. EIS investments are not suitable for everyone. Any recommendation should be based on a holistic review of your client’s financial situation, objectives and needs. This article does not constitute advice on investments, legal matters, taxation or any other matters.
Issued by Octopus Investments Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT. Registered in England and Wales No. 03942880. Issued: January 2022. CAM011693.
 IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, 2019 – 2019 Biopharma Cold-Chain Logistics Survey