Biotech is not a short-term bet:The Investment Column

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If you bought shares in International Biotechnology Trust in the hope of eliminating some of the volatility inherent in this most speculative of sectors, you will have been disappointed. Since the Rothschild-managed fund was launched at 100p two-and-a-half years ago, it has been as low as 78p, up to 156p, and most of the way back again.

That roller-coaster ride has reflected the market's love-hate relationship with biotechs, which has seen some dizzy gyrations even from the blue- chip end of the industry where British Biotech tripled in the first six months of the year before losing a third of its value over the following four months.

IBT has also provided evidence, if any were needed, that investments in young, hi-tech companies can go both ways. During the year, Cytel, an American investment, fell from $9 a share to about $3 after trials of a heart drug came to nothing. That was a big contributor to a fall in IBT's net assets of 11 per cent during the year.

Two points need to be made about that fall. First, it is inevitable that a fund investing in untried companies will have occasional setbacks of this order. Second, the share price is only loosely driven by the NAV. During the year to August, IBT's shares rose 22 per cent.

Investors in IBT need to be able to shut their eyes to short-term fluctuations and view their shareholding as a medium-term bet on a handful of the 90 products on trial at the company coming good. The trust itself is in these companies for between three and five years and its close relationship with management, bringing in new executives and steering them towards the right strategic partners, is likely to take that long to come to fruition.

If you have only limited funds to throw at the biotech sector, and cannot afford to do your own diversification, this is the best way to gain an exposure to the potentially exciting capital gains it could provide.