The company behind AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine just went public, weeks after completing monster Series B, as Werewolf also makes the Nasdaq leap
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The company behind the technology for AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is prepped and ready to hit Nasdaq.
British biotech Vaccitech priced its IPO late Thursday night, pulling in a $110.5 million raise and will debut at the midpoint of their range at $17. It’s a quick public leap for the company, having completed a Series B just last month — though that crossover proved to be huge at $168 million.
Once Vaccitech begins trading, it will do so on the ticker $VACC.
Formerly a small biotech that spun out of Oxford in 2016, Vaccitech has seen its profile expand sharply over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company was founded on research from vaccinologists Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert, with Gilbert originally looking to raise funds for a potential MERS vaccine, per a July 2020 Businessweek report.
The program eventually proved fruitful in their efforts to develop a Covid-19 shot, as the spike proteins from the two viruses are about 50% similar. Gilbert also utilized the same platform as the MERS candidate to make their Covid-19 vaccine, which is centered around a chimpanzee adenovirus.
At the outset of the pandemic, Gilbert and Hill attempted to ensure their vaccine would be made available globally and fought against a licensing agreement with Merck out of fear the Big Pharma wouldn’t provide it to poorer nations at fair cost. They ultimately changed course, prompted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and partnered exclusively with AstraZeneca.
With the deal in hand, Vaccitech and AstraZeneca proved one of the early frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race. Throughout last summer, the pair had sailed smoothly from early trials into late-stage studies, launching their large-scale Phase III in the US just after the teams from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech last September.
But, just days later, AstraZeneca was forced to pause its trials after a participant developed what was thought to be severe spinal cord inflammation, a condition that can be caused by a variety of triggers. The pharma only got FDA permission to resume in late October, in part because they were slow to share information with the regulator. It had restarted trials elsewhere earlier, although things have been bumpy since.
AstraZeneca has been mired in fights over distribution to Europe as the calendar turned to 2021, with delays and accusations of reneged promises ultimately leading to the EU suing the pharma earlier this week.
Vaccitech, though, is ready to cash in on the heels of its Covid-19 program. Their Series B was joined by prominent investors M&G, Gilead and Tencent, among others. Within the S-1, Vaccitech plans to complete clinical trials in hepatitis B and HPV programs, and start a Phase I/II study for another candidate in prostate cancer. Further down the pipeline, funds will go to an NSCLC program and two programs to prevent zoster and MERS.
As recently as 2019, Vaccitech was valued at only $86 million. But their Series B raised speculation that they could notch a $1 billion valuation by the time their IPO rolled around, a theory that ultimately overshot that estimate — according to Renaissance Capital, Vaccitech’s market value is $614 million.
The move to Nasdaq is also seen by some in the UK as a loss for British prime minister Boris Johnson, who has been trying to market the country as a burgeoning life sciences hub in the wake of Brexit.
Werewolf howls its way onto Nasdaq
Joining Vaccitech in the Nasdaq parade is Werewolf Therapeutics, who priced their IPO at $16 per share and netted a $120 million raise.
The company has developed three molecules belonging to a class they dub Indukines, which comprises four components: a cytokine, an inactivation domain, a half-life extension domain and a linker that can be cleaved by proteases found in tumors. Werewolf says the combination can lay low throughout the body, waiting to strike specifically against cancer targets.
Like Vaccitech, Werewolf also recently completed a Series B round, having raised $72 million back in January. With an initial focus on IL-2 and IL-12, Werewolf is looking to begin human testing for WTX-124 and WTX-330 in 2022. The third candidate aims to conditionally activate IFN-a.
With the pair going public Friday, the total biotech IPO raise is nearing $6.5 billion among the 39 companies to debut so far, per the Endpoints News tally. Werewolf plans to trade under the ticker $HOWL.