AstraZeneca vaccine scientists set for £22m payday in New York float

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford University scientist who lead the team that created the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, is set for a payday of more than £20m as the vaccine technology firm she co-founded prepares to float on the New York stock exchange.

Gilbert, who became a household name as a result of her work creating Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine, owns just over 5% of Vaccitech, a Oxford University spin-out company that owns the biotechnology behind the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and others for Mers, hepatitis B, the virus that causes shingles, and a range of cancers.

The company, which Gilbert founded in 2016 with a fellow Oxford vaccine scientist Prof Adrian Hill, was reported on Wednesday to have filed regulatory papers before an initial public offering on the NYSE. The report, in the Financial Times, did not suggest a guideline valuation of the company but it is likely to seek a flotation price in excess of the £425m valuation it attracted in a fundraising drive earlier this month. Vaccitech declined to comment.

Prof Adrian Hill also owns 5.2% of Vaccitech, the firm he and Gilbert founded in 2016. Photograph: John Cairns/University of Oxford/PA

Gilbert and Hill each own a 5.2% stake in Vaccitech, according to filings at Companies House. If the company achieved a flotation value of £425m, their individual stakes would be worth £22m. Oxford University could also collect a big windfall, as it holds a 5.4% stake directly. It also owns further stakes through the university’s spin-out holding company, Oxford Sciences Innovation.

The backers of Oxford Sciences Innovation plc include several Chinese firms, including the investment arm of Huawei Technologies, the telecoms company accused of posing a national security risk to UK and US infrastructure.

A spokesperson for Oxford University declined to comment and Gilbert and Hill did not respond to requests for comment.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, owns 12% of Vaccitech through its venture capital fund GV. Sequoia Capital, a venture fund known for making millions providing early funding for Apple, Google and YouTube, also owns 10%.

The UK government gave Vaccitech a grant of at least £155,000 to help fund the development of the coronavirus vaccine, which is based on a virus that causes common colds in chimpanzees. However, the Treasury is not listed on the firm’s shareholder register and it did not immediately response to requests for comment.

AstraZeneca has signed a deal to distribute the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic. When the commercial deal ends, Oxford University will collect 6% of the revenue, and Vaccitech an undisclosed share.

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