April 4, 2019 / 1:04 PM / 7 months ago

MOVES-Activist hedge fund Sarissa hires president in push for growth

BOSTON, April 4 (Reuters) - Sarissa Capital Management LP, the activist hedge fund run by Alexander Denner that invests in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, has hired asset management veteran Eric Vincent as president, according to his LinkedIn profile and two people familiar with the matter.

Sarissa is seeking to cross the $1 billion mark in assets under management by attracting new investors at a time when demand for hedge funds is picking up again. Scale is important for firms like Sarissa, which pressure companies to adopt their proposals and give them board seats.

Sarissa’s returns have beaten both the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and a biotech industry benchmark over the last few years, investors said.

Sarissa returned 15.5 percent last year, performing far better than the average activist hedge fund, which lost 11 percent, according to data from Hedge Fund Research. In the first two months of 2019, the firm returned 5 percent.

Vincent, who joined in April, previously headed business development at Mubadala Capital, the investment unit of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund. Earlier in his career he was president of commodities hedge fund Ospraie Management LLC. Vincent also served as chairman of the hedge fund industry’s lobby group Managed Funds Association during the 2008 financial crisis.

Sarissa was founded by Denner, who is chief investment officer, and Mark DiPaolo in 2013. It has about $700 million in assets, holding stakes in ten companies, including Ironwood Pharmaceuticals Inc and Puma Biotechnology Inc .

Sarissa, which built a stake in Biogen Inc, suffered a setback last month when the pharmaceutical company announced it would scrap two key Alzheimer drug trials, wiping out more than $18 billion of market value. Denner is on the board at Biogen.

Over the last three years, Sarissa earned an average 13.8 percent a year, beating the S&P 500’s 12 percent gain.

Among Sarissa’s successful investments were Idenix, which was sold to Merck for $3.85 billion, ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co for $62 billion, and Bioverativ, which was spun off from Biogen and then sold to Sanofi SA for $11.6 billion.

Denner earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Yale and honed his investing skills while working for activist investor Carl Icahn. During that time, Denner pushed for the eventual sale of at least three biotechnology companies, including Genzyme Corp, MedImmune LLC and ImClone Systems. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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