AstraZeneca’s Shot Designer Slumps 17% in Trading Debut

The University of Oxford spinoff that designed AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine had a lackluster debut Friday, with shares falling 17% below their initial public offering price.

Oxford, U.K.-based Vaccitech Plc closed at $14.10 Friday after pricing its IPO at $17 a share. The stock, which listed on the Nasdaq, fell as much as 25% during the regular session.

Vaccitech’s decline is the latest of several cracks to emerge in the IPO market over the past month. While some listings perform well, others have been forced to slash their sale prices or pull their deals altogether. Nearly 40 of this year’s debuts fell during their first session, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, on pace for the worst year on record.

Bill Enright, the chief executive officer of Vaccitech, said he’s focused on using the $111 million in gross proceeds from the offering to develop vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases, including the hepatitis B virus, human papillomavirus and prostate and lung cancer.

The pandemic boosted demand among investors for companies able to employ innovative technology to develop safe and effective vaccines more rapidly than ever before. Vaccitech’s success in producing a shot led to a much quicker trip to public markets than Enright had envisioned.

“With the visibility around Covid-19, the validation from AstraZeneca in that relationship, and the markets continuing to be open, we were able to take advantage of that,” Enright said in an interview. He previously expected the firm’s public listing would come only after it provided proof of concept data in its hepatitis B and HPV programs.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca’s Shot Designer Vaccitech Falls 20% After IPO

Enright led U.S. immunotherapy firm Altimmune Inc., another Nasdaq-listed university spin-out, for more than 10 years before joining Vaccitech in 2019, three years after it was founded by University of Oxford professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill. He said the company plans to expand its research and development base in the Oxford area as well as grow in the U.S.

“When you look at where the majority of biotechs are listing these days and the availability of capital and the number of investors that are present on the Nasdaq, that seems like the right market to be in,” Enright said. “We still have a huge commitment to the U.K. That’s where the headquarters is. That’s where we’re going to continue to hire and expand.”

The technology developed by Vaccitech and deployed during the pandemic could allow it to become a flexible provider of vaccines for years to come, according to Dima Kuzmin, managing partner at 4BIO Capital, a health-care venture capital firm.

“I do hope for an emergence of a new class of companies that are effectively platform companies that can provide basically a subscription, like access to its rapid development capability,” said Kuzmin. “And this is definitely the direction that the companies like Vaccitech, Moderna and BioNTech seem to be taking.”

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