In Depth

Who is set to make money from the Oxford coronavirus vaccine?

Layers of private investors in line to profit from university’s Covid drug

Huawei is among a wide range of private investors set to get a financial shot in the arm should the Oxford coronavirus vaccine succeed, it has emerged. 

The Chinese tech giant was recently banned from Britain’s 5G network over security concerns, but an investigation by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) found that Huawei is also linked to the vaccine project, alongside Google’s investment arm and two of the professors leading the research.

The Oxford team are front runners in the “race for a Covid-19 vaccine”, with the 900-year-old university’s Jenner Institute “competing against a number of large, publicly traded pharmaceutical companies”, says the New York City-based newspaper. 

But exactly which private investors are in line to win big financial rewards from the university researchers’ work?

Vaccitech

“Oxford’s researchers are encouraged to form companies to commercialise their work,” The Times  reports. Two of the leading scientists now working on the vaccine project, Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill, did just that in 2016, when they co-founded Vaccitech. 

Today, the pair are reported to own about 10% of the company, which has been valued at around $86m (£66m). Asked by the newspaper about her financial stake in the company, Professor Gilbert said she was “concentrating on the vaccine trials”.

Vaccitech’s “technology is integral to the Oxford jab and the government has invested about £5m”, which means the UK authorities should also receive a cut of the revenues if the vaccine is successfully brought to market, The Times adds.

The firm’s chief executive, Bill Enright, told the WSJ that Vaccitech and its investors would receive a “big chunk of the royalties from a successful vaccine as well as ‘milestone’ payments, but only after the pandemic is declared over”.

Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI)

Vaccitech’s largest shareholder is OSI, a company linked to Oxford University that led the efforts to raise the cash for the Covid vaccine research.

OSI owns a 46% stake in Vaccitech and “has raised around £600m from outside investors”, the WSJ reports, citing investor documents and people close to both firms.

The outside investors reportedly include the Wellcome Trust; Temasek Holdings, which is owned by the Singapore government; GV, an investment company owned by Google’s parent company; and Fosun Pharma, a Chinese drugmaker best known in the UK for owning Wolverhampton Wanderers football club.

Huawei 

Despite having recently been banned from any involvement in the building of the UK’s 5G network, Huawei has retained a 0.7% cent stake in OSI, according to the WSJ.

The investment was “made in October 2018, before Oxford in January 2019 said it wouldn’t accept any more money from the Chinese telecom giant”, the paper reports.

A Huawei spokesperson told the WSJ that the company “owns stakes in a range of tech and innovation partners around the world”. Meanwhile, Jim Wilkinson, OSI’s interim chief executive, said the Chinese firm “has no special access to information” about the project.

Braavos Capital

OSI’s biggest investor is a firm started last year by Andre Crawford-Brunt, a former Deutsche Bank global chief. “Braavos now has a nearly 20% share of OSI,” says the WSJ, citing people familiar with the firms. And “through its stake in OSI, Braavos holds about 9% of Vaccitech”.

Astrazeneca

The university team are developing the vaccine alongside the global pharmaceutical giant.

But John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford and one of the architects of the partnership, told The Times that “for the pandemic we’ve said we’re not taking any royalties and Astrazeneca are saying they’re not making any money”.

However, should there prove to be a market for regular vaccinations against coronavirus in the future, “there is some money to be made”, he added.

Astrazeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg TV last week that the company could make a “reasonable profit” in the developed world from its involvement in the vaccine development and distribution.

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