Biotech start-up behind AstraZeneca vaccine files for US listing

Vaccitech, the start-up that owns crucial biotechnology behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, has confidentially filed for an initial public offering in the US. 

The Oxford start-up, co-founded by Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, could price its offering as early as this month, according to people familiar with the matter. Vaccitech declined to comment.

While the vast majority of biotech start-ups choose to list on Nasdaq, Vaccitech’s US debut is likely to be viewed as a loss for London as the UK seeks to become a hub for life sciences investment after Brexit. Oxford Nanopore, a DNA sequencing technology start-up, recently picked London for its IPO later this year. 

Vaccitech is taking advantage of investor appetite for scientific innovation highlighted by the pandemic, with 2020 a booming year for biotech IPOs. Shares in vaccine maker Moderna have soared almost 300 per cent and shares in BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to make a Covid-19 vaccine, have climbed more than 120 per cent in the past year. 

But the negative publicity about the AstraZeneca vaccine, including concerns about whether blood clots could be a possible rare side effect, could damp some of the investor enthusiasm. Oxford university paused a trial of the vaccine in children on Tuesday ahead new risk assessments from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UK regulator, and the European Medicines Agency.

Vaccitech had previously been expected to go public later this year. It recently raised a crossover round of $168m led by M&G Investment Management, including $43m of notes that will convert into equity. The round valued Vaccitech at about $450m, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. 

The UK Treasury has also taken a stake in the company, according to people close to the situation. Other investors include GV, Alphabet’s investment arm, Sequoia Capital China, and Gilead, the California-based biotech. 

AstraZeneca has the commercial licence for the Covid-19 vaccine, distributing it on a non-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic. But when it ends Oxford will receive 6 per cent of the revenue, with Vaccitech taking an undisclosed share. 

Vaccitech is also developing another vaccine that could be used as a booster for people who previously received the AstraZeneca shot. Experts increasingly expect that booster shots will be required to strengthen immunity to the Sars-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid-19. 

The company is using its technology to tackle other infectious diseases including Mers and the virus that causes shingles, and even to create treatments for cancer. 

Vaccitech said it would use the funds from the recent round for early clinical trials of its treatments for persistent high-risk human papillomavirus, chronic hepatitis and prostate cancer.

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