International Biotechnology Trust’s Ailsa Craig: Covid-19 and investing in property

The investment manager discusses biotech misconceptions, why she doesnt have a credit card, and her worst investment.

Ailsa Craig is an investment manager at International Biotechnology Trust (IBT). Ailsa joined SV Health Investors, a specialist healthcare fund manager, in 2006, as IBT investment analyst before being promoted to investment manager in 2008. Prior to this, she worked at Baring Asset Management as a research analyst, covering pharmaceutical and biotechnology stocks, and for Insight Investment/Rothschild Asset Management in the Global/US investment team. 

Growing up, what did you learn about money?

My childhood consisted of plenty of global travel and boarding school from the age of seven as my father was an officer in the British army. Both my parents were very astute when it came to finances and it formed a part of many a dinner conversation. I vividly remember my father referring to our family financial situation as “comfortably broke”. I think this upbringing taught me not to spend money I don’t have. I followed this into my adult life, and to this day have not owned a credit card.

Who takes care of the money in your house?

Me, and I have always kept my own finances separate from my partner.

What was your first investment?

A house in Peckham, South London, after I left the University of Manchester, where I studied biology. A friend and I teamed up so that we could afford a decent-sized house and have a pet cat, something that rental properties did not allow. I would be lying if I said that didn’t play a big role in the motivation to buy a property!

What was your best investment? 

The house in Peckham is by far and away my best investment. I first purchased the property back in 2001, and it is very much the reason behind being able to afford to live in London. I am very grateful and lucky in that regard.

And your worst investment?

A much-loved VW Beetle, which I bought off eBay in the early noughties. Total money pit but lots of fun!

What’s the best thing about your job?

The sector. We are very fortunate to have such a fascinating set of companies to research and invest in. Meeting management teams that are making progress in addressing serious diseases and seeing our investment directly benefit patients is truly amazing. Also, witnessing the coming together of the whole industry to address the Covid-19 pandemic with the speed and determination that has been shown, is mind-blowing.

How healthcare and biotech investment trusts can revive portfolios

And the worst thing about your job?

I get frustrated by society’s view of the sector. The pharmaceutical industry has a worse reputation than tobacco companies, which is incredible in my opinion. My view is that society has a deal with industry. The industry puts billions into R&D for new drugs, and in return it is rewarded with an approximate 10-year patent life with unrestricted pricing. Following that period, the drugs become generic and prices fall dramatically.

I think that’s a good deal, and it is directly the reason behind new life-changing cancer drugs being discovered and helping society live longer, healthier lives. I can’t see how that compares to tobacco companies, which directly hurt society in my opinion.

If you could change only one thing about the industry you work in, what would it be?

I would improve the incentives for companies to develop new antibiotics. There is a serious drought of new effective antibiotic drugs. This is due to certain shortcomings in the business model, as an innovative effective antibiotic won’t sell. Ideally, these drugs are never used and are kept on the shelf as a last resort. That is not conducive to making a profit, so improvements and incentives need to be implemented.

If you had to save money, what could you do without?

I have two young children, aged seven and 10, and we bought a campervan, which has been a huge success. The boys absolutely love it, but we could, of course, do without that, however heart-breaking.

What financial advice would you give your younger self?

Leverage up and don’t worry too much, be bolder and take on more risk.

What do you do for fun?

I thoroughly enjoy taking my boys to beautiful campsites in the campervan. As we live in central London, it’s a real treat to be outdoors and enjoy all that it offers. We are looking forward to being able to do this again after the current lockdown.  

I also love going for long walks around London. I currently live in Dulwich, which is on the same train line as Peckham, so I haven’t ventured very far in 20 years. Exploring different parts of London by foot is my current hobby and it’s fascinating.

In another life I would be a…

Vet. I was never allowed animals as pets since we moved to a new house almost annually due to my father’s career. I’m a big animal fan and always thought that I’d end up working with them in some way.

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