COVID-19 vaccine start-up files for IPO

The UK-based company plans to list on the Nasdaq with the ticker symbol VACC

LONDON -- The biotech startup behind the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by AstraZeneca PLC and the University of Oxford filed Friday with U.S. regulators for a public share offering.

Vaccitech PLC said in a securities filing it plans to use the technology underpinning the vaccine to develop treatments targeting prostate cancer, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the IPO filing could come as soon as this week. The U.K.-based company plans to list on New York's Nasdaq with the ticker symbol VACC.

The company was started by two Oxford scientists who helped lead the Covid-19 vaccine development and who spun Vaccitech out of the university in 2016, with the goal of turning laboratory discoveries into commercial products. A key part of the vaccine technology uses an altered form of chimpanzee cold virus to ferry genetic material into humans to boost the immune system and fight infection.

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Vaccitech has been aiming for a listed valuation of around $700 million, with backers estimating it could be a $1 billion company by year-end, The Journal reported last month. The company recently raised $168 million in new funding as a step toward a share offering.

It had $4.8 million in revenue last year and a loss of about $17.7 million and hasn't generated any revenue from product sales, according to Friday's filing. It said Vaccitech aims to raise $100 million -- a figure generally put in debut IPO filings as a placeholder to be adjusted during the marketing of the company.

Vaccitech to date has raised $216 million from investors including pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc.; Alphabet Inc.'s GV, formerly called Google Ventures; and Sequoia Capital China, an affiliate of the Silicon Valley venture-capital giant.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
AZN ASTRAZENECA PLC 55.21 +0.16 +0.29%
GILD GILEAD SCIENCES, INC. 68.53 -0.38 -0.55%
GOOGL ALPHABET, INC. 2,278.38 +49.34 +2.21%

As the pandemic set in last year, Vaccitech was one of the most valuable companies in the portfolio of the university-affiliated Oxford Sciences Innovation PLC, though it had yet to bring a drug to market. OSI is a venture firm the university launched in 2015 to fund startups spun out from its various academic areas -- from immunology to quantum computing -- to compete better with U.S. institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in commercializing research. Backers hope the IPO will create one of the biggest market debuts of an Oxford spinoff in years.

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Investors have had concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine's rocky rollout, The Journal has reported. Those concerns have continued with questions about serious blood clots among a small number of people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. European and U.K. regulators have said there is strong evidence of a link to the rare but serious clotting events, but they have continued to recommend the vaccine as an important tool to help end the pandemic. Perceptions of the vaccine were also tarnished by confusion over U.S. clinical-trial results last month. The vaccine isn't approved for use in the U.S.

Vaccitech's relationship with Oxford also has been marred by tensions over the company's role in the vaccine and the terms of Oxford's AstraZeneca deal, according to people close to the company and university. Friday's filing notes that Vaccitech stands to make 24% of whatever royalties Oxford makes from the vaccine, as previously reported by The Journal. The filing includes a caveat that Vaccitech hasn't seen the full contract between Oxford and AstraZeneca -- something the biotech's bankers and lawyers have sought unsuccessfully, The Journal has reported, citing people close to the parties.