Original Vaccitech investor: Biotech no COVID one-hit wonder, as IPO injects $110M for broad pipeline

Vaccitech scientist
Vaccitech has priced a $110.5 million IPO. One original investor says the company has plenty to offer beyond the COVID-19 vaccine making headlines.(John Cairns/Oxford University Innovation)

As Vaccitech prices a $110.5 million IPO, one investor says the company has a pipeline that could address a number of killer diseases long after the headlines over the AstraZeneca vaccine’s blood clot concerns fade.

The company offered 6.5 million American Depositary Shares in the U.S. IPO at a price of $17 apiece. The shares will begin trading on the Nasdaq Global Market today under the symbol VACC. Underwriters have a 30-day option to purchase up to 975,000 additional ADSs at the IPO price. The offering is expected to close on May 4.

Vaccitech, which originally spun out from Oxford University's Jenner Institute, was originally targeting an IPO in the range of $100 million, so the $110.5 million represents a slight over-subscription, but is very much par the course with biotech IPOs these days.

“Vaccitech, as its new Nasdaq ticker VACC implies, is a vaccine for many things,” said Douglas Hansen-Luke, executive chairman of investor Future Planet Capital, an original investor in the company. “Whenever we looked at Vaccitech, we always viewed it as a company that's doing great, great work to deal with the global challenge of COVID, but which is also making significant strides in addressing a number of other killers for the world.”

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After rocketing to the public realm with its AstraZeneca-Oxford partnered COVID-19 vaccine, Vaccitech has now been wrapped up in a global hesitance to take the jab, after concerns were raised about a possible risk of blood clots in younger people. The shot has also fallen out of favor as rival products from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have put up stronger efficacy data.

Like many experts in the biotech and public health world, Hansen-Luke stressed that while the vaccine does come with a slight risk of blood clots—about one in 5 million administrations—COVID is much more dangerous.

“Very clearly this isn’t ideal. It’s well understood here in the U.K. that your chances of being struck by lightning, or having deep vein thrombosis in an airplane or actually having a traffic accident are actually greater than they are of developing a blood clot,” Hansen-Luke said. “That doesn't mean that it's dismissed. It is a risk and it’s being declared as such. But it's a very low probability event.”

He noted that the labeling on the vaccine has been changed to warn of the risk and people who receive the vaccine are being educated on what to look out for.

“It's much better from a risk-reward perspective, to take a vaccine, than not to,” Hansen-Luke said.

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In announcing the IPO pricing, Vaccitech did not pump up the COVID-19 vaccine, instead touting itself as a biotech that discovers and develops “novel immunotherapeutics and vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancer.”

Hansen-Luke’s firm has been an investor since 2020, following the company for years before throwing in the cash. Future Planet Capital has since doubled down amid the vaccine drama, becoming the lead investor in the vaccine's clinical trials and contributing to a $168 million Series B in March. He credits the scientific work of co-founders Sarah Gilbert, a professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, and Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, among other accolades. When Vaccitech became a leader in the race to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market, investors were not surprised.

“If you actually do look for the most promising companies coming from these centers of innovation, from the top universities and research establishments, you are likely to find companies that will address global challenges and to do it profitably,” Hansen-Luke said.

The company has several other assets in the pipeline, including a phase 2 checkpoint inhibitor combo called VTP-800/850 that is under development to treat prostate cancer. Another two drugs are under development for hepatitis B virus. Vaccitech has partnered with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen on a prophylactic treatment for MERS called VTP-500, which is in phase 1 testing with readout expected this quarter.

The cancer vaccines are of particular interest to Hansen-Luke and are what attracted his firm to the biotech in the first place five years ago.

“That's why we've invested, not just for COVID but for the broader story,” Hansen-Luke said.

Editor's note: Story amended to clarify the date of Future Planet Capital's original investment, which was in 2020.