How Huawei and Oxford Uni scientists could profit from Covid jab

How two professors leading Oxford University’s coronavirus trial and Chinese tech giant Huawei could profit if the experimental jab is proven to work

  • Oxford professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill co-founded startup Vaccitech
  • Scientists own roughly 10% of firm, which was valued at £65.8million last year
  • Pair will be entitled to share of revenue if the Covid-19 jab makes it to market

Two scientists behind Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine could pocket a hefty sum of money if the jab proves successful, it emerged today.

Several private investors, including the controversial Chinese firm Huawei, are also poised to profit if the vaccine — called AZD1222 — goes to market. 

Oxford professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill co-founded Vaccitech in 2016. The start-up created the experimental jab — still in human trials — alongside experts at the university’s Jenner Institute.

Company House records show the experts own roughly 10 per cent of the company, which was valued at £65.8million last year before the pandemic hit. It means the pair will be entitled to their share of revenue if the Covid-19 jab makes it to market and is sold for profit. 

For comparison, influenza vaccines make around £4billion profit for pharmaceutical companies every year, globally. 

Several Chinese investors, including a Dutch arm of Huawei, also own shares in the company listed as Vaccitech’s biggest funder. 

It means Huawei — which has been blacklisted by the UK and US amid fears it could use its tech to spy on the West — is privy to Vaccitech’s intellectual property, it has previously been reported.

The telecoms maker may also gain handsomely, if the Covid-19 jab is proven to work and be safe over the next few months.


Oxford professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill could pocket a hefty sum of money if their Covid-19 jab proves successful, it emerged today

Several private investors, including the controversial Chinese firm Huawei, are also poised to profit if the vaccine – called AZD1222 – goes to market

Professor Gilbert declined to comment yesterday. She told The Times: ‘I am concentrating on the vaccine trials.’ 

AstraZeneca, the makers of the Covid-19 jab, have promised to sell it ‘at cost’ so long as the world is still in the midst of a pandemic, meaning they won’t make profit.

Only when the World Health Organization (WHO) brings the global threat level down from pandemic to ‘endemic’, similar to seasonal flu, will the Brentford-based firm ramp up the cost of the vaccine. 

Oxford University’s experimental jab is safe and provokes an immune reaction that lasts for at least two months, research shows. 

Hugely-anticipated clinical trial results of the vaccine — one of the front-runners in the world’s race for a jab — revealed more than 91 per cent of volunteers injected produced an immune response against the coronavirus that lasted a month or more. 

Immune responses remained strong for at least 56 days, according to results in The Lancet. But it won’t be licensed for human use yet because it has not been proven to work and the results only show it has promise.

The scientists who did the study, however, said it is ‘possible’ that the vaccine could be ready by December if tests keep going according to plan. Another added that people in the most at-risk groups could get the first jabs in the winter.

Crucially, nobody suffered any bad side effects from the vaccine and it is stimulating the immune system as scientists hoped. Some people developed headaches, tiredness and pain in their arm after they were given the jab, but scientists claimed none of the side effects were severe. 

Oxford University’s vaccine — called AZD1222 — is already being manufactured by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the UK Government has ordered 100million doses ahead of time.

Researchers on the project said ‘the early results hold promise’ but added much more is still needed.’ Infectious disease scientists warned ‘there is still a long way to go’ before any vaccine is rolled out. 

If the vaccine is given to the public it is likely to be in two doses given close together, developers said, because that seems to strengthen the body’s response.

Results from the first phase of clinical trials of Oxford’s vaccine were published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.

They revealed that the Covid-19 vaccine, named AZD1222, had been given to 543 people out of a group of 1,077. 

The other half were given a meningitis jab so their reactions could be compared and scientists could be sure the effects of the coronavirus jab weren’t random.   

Researchers wanted to find out whether the vaccine boosted either of two types of immunity — antibodies, which are disease-fighting substances; and T-cell immunity, with T cells able to produce antibodies and also to attack viruses themselves.

The vaccine produced ‘strong’ responses on both accounts, the study found.

It showed that the T cell response aimed at the spike protein that appears on the outside of the coronavirus was ‘markedly increased’ in people who had had the jab, in tests of 43 of the participants. These responses peaked after 14 days and then declined before the end-point of the trial at 56 days.

How much profit the vaccine will make for its investors depends on how many other Covid-19 vaccines it has to compete with.

Dozens of coronavirus jabs are currently underway around the world, with candidates in the US, China and Russia all in the midst of rigorous human trials. 

Bill Enright, the chief executive of Vaccitech, told The Times: ‘Vaccitech and [Oxford] agreed very early on that neither party would seek to receive any royalty payments… during the pandemic.’

Eyebrows will also be raised about the fact Huawei, which was banned from operating the UK’s 5G mobile network last month amid spying fears – is in line to profit from the vaccine if it is proven to be successful.

The telecoms giant is a shareholder in Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), a venture capital company that seeks investment to fund new technologies and research projects.  

Public records show Huawei Technologies Cooeperatief, a Dutch arm of the maligned firm, bought 4.1million shares in OSI last July, roughly a 0.7 per cent stake, the Financial Times reports.  

The newspaper wrote in October that buying into OSI will give the Chinese telecoms company a view of its portfolio companies and intellectual property.

OSI has raised £600m in four years from 70 shareholders, including Temasek Holdings, which is owned by the Singapore government, GV, an investment firm owned by Google, the Chinese drugmaker Fosun Pharma, and the Wellcome Trust, a research charity based in London. 

OSI has a breadth of startup tech companies under its portfolio including Oxford Nanoimaging, a microscope manufacturer, Oxford Flow, which designs pressure control equipment for the oil and gas industry, and vaccine maker Vaccitech.

As Vaccitech’s biggest investor, OSI owns a 46 per cent stake in the company. The UK Government has also invested about £5million in the jab maker at the start of the pandemic. 

Last month, the Government banned mobile providers from buying new Huawei 5G equipment amid fears the Chinese firm would use its tech to spy on the West.

UK companies using Huawei kit must strip it out of their networks by 2027, in a move that will slowdown the rollout of 5G in the UK by at least a year.

The move brought the UK closer in line with the US, where Huawei has been banished from selling even its smartphones to Americans.

Washington claims the firm poses a national security threat because it takes orders from China’s Communist Party. 

The Oxford vaccine is one of the frontrunners to become the first jab against Covid-19. 

But the researchers behind the trials have had to move their studies abroad to South Africa and Brazil — where Covid-19 is still rife — to speed up the so-called efficacy trials.

There has been growing concern not enough people are catching the virus in the public in the UK anymore, which makes it hard to test whether the jab actually protects people from catching it. 

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says frontline health and care workers, and those at an increased risk of serious disease, including elderly care homes residents, will be first in line to get access to a vaccine.

These people could get a dose of the jab by the end of the year if trials of the Oxford jab go as planned.  

Over-50s and those with heart and kidney disease will be next, according to Mr Hancock, who said health bosses were also considering fast-tracking access for people from BAME backgrounds, who are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. 

It’s more likely the masses will get their hands on a Covid-19 sometime in early 2021, according to the UK’s vaccine tsar, Kate Bingham.

Manufacturing is already under way, however, so that the vaccine can be mas-produced as quickly as possible.

A first batch is due to be delivered this week to a plant in Wrexham, north Wales, where it will be packaged into the glass vials it is stored in. 

It comes after the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned there may never be a ‘silver bullet’ for treating Covid-19.

Countries around the world are locked in a race against time to test and produce a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus.

But Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the UN agency, said on Monday that scientists may never find one that works. 

He said for now, stopping outbreaks ‘comes down to the basics’, urging nations to continue with test, trace and isolate schemes.  

In a media briefing, Dr Tedros asked recommended countries participate in relevant clinical trials, and prepare for ‘vaccine introduction’.

He said: ‘We learn every day about this virus and I’m pleased that the world has made progress in identifying treatments that can help people with the most serious forms of Covid-19 recover.

‘Over the past week we’ve seen several countries that appeared as though they were past the worst now contending with fresh spikes in cases.

‘However, we’ve also seen how some countries, regions or localities that had a high number of cases are now bringing the outbreak under control.

‘A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection.’

Dr Tedros added: ‘However, there is no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.

‘For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control.

‘Testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all.

‘For individuals, it’s about keeping physical distance, wearing a mask, cleaning hands regularly and coughing safely away from others. Do it all.’

WHAT ARE THE LEADING COVID-19 VACCINE CANDIDATES? 

University of Oxford

Oxford University academics began developing the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine in January. It is now named AZD1222, after the researchers signed a manufacturing partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Human trials started on April 23 and they are now in the final phase, with trials being carried out in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. 

Lead of the project Professor Sarah Gilbert told The Times she is ’80 per cent’ confident of its success.

The science behind Oxford’s vaccine attempt hinges on recreating the ‘spike’ proteins that are found all over the outside of the Covid-19 viruses.

It is made from a weakened version of an adenovirus from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to grow in humans. 

Imperial College London 

Fifteen volunteers have already been given Imperial’s trial jab and testing is expected to ramp up to include as many as 200-300 participants in the coming weeks. A second trial, with 6,000 people, will come later. 

But Professor Robin Shattock, lead researcher, said the vaccine won’t be available until at least 2021 even if everything goes according to plan. 

If the jab works, the team want to make it as cheap as possible so the entire British population could be vaccinated for the ‘really good value’ of just under £200million.

Imperial’s vaccine also attempts to mimic the spikes on the outside of the Covid-19 virus. However, it will work by delivering genetic material (RNA) from the virus, which programs cells inside the patient’s body to recreate the spike proteins.

Pfizer/BioNTech

US drug giant Pfizer — famous for Viagra — and German firm BioNTech have been working on a number of potential Covid-19 vaccines under the ‘BNT162 program’. 

It reported positive preliminary results from the ongoing Phase I/II clinical trial of one called BNT162b1 on July 1. Tests on 24 volunteers showed that it was well tolerated and produced dose dependent immunity.

Dr Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, said the vaccine ‘is able to produce neutralizing antibody responses in humans at or above the levels observed’ in Covid-19 survivors.

Pfizer received fast track designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for two of their four potential Covid-19 vaccines this month. 

The vaccine is one which injects RNA – genetic material – which codes the body to produce proteins that look like the spike proteins that would be found on the outside of the real coronavirus.

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur

The vaccine produced by GSK and Sanofi, which together have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world, is based on the existing technology used to produce Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccine.

Genetic material from the surface protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is inserted into insect cells — the basis of Sanofi’s influenza product.

The ‘spike’ protein is what the virus uses to bind with cells in the body to invade them. The vaccines aim to prime the body’s immune system to bind to the protein and disable the virus before it takes hold in the body.

An adjuvant — an ingredient added to enhance the immune response — will be added to the vaccine.

In can reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, which is useful during a pandemic since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be made quickly.

Scientists first started making the vaccine in April. Scientists have yet to trial the vaccine on humans, and studies to prove it works won’t begin until September.

Valneva

French firm Valneva have yet to begin human trials of their Covid-19 vaccine, called VLA2001. Company bosses hope to scale up testing by the end of this year.

The jab is currently only in pre-clinical studies — meaning it is being tested in the lab and on animals.

If proven successful, the vaccine will be manufactured at its facilities in Livingston, Scotland and in Solna, Sweden. 

Valneva’s jab is based on injecting people with dead versions of the coronavirus.

This is called an inactivated whole virus vaccine and works by injecting the virus itself but versions that have been damaged in a lab so that they cannot infect human cells. They can be damaged using heat, chemicals or radiation.

Even though the viruses are inactivated the body still recognises them as threats and mounts and immune response against them which can develop immunity.

Moderna 

Massachusetts-based Moderna was the first US company to start human trials of its potential Covid-19 vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, on March 16.

The jab has proven to trigger an immune response in all 45 injected volunteers, according to a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine on July 14.

Moderna’s shot showed early promise in its phase 2 human tests last month. The company reported that it triggered antibody production on par with that seen in recovered coronavirus patients. 

CanSino 

Chinese vaccine Ad5-nCoV, made by CanSino, was the very first shot to enter clinical trials earlier this year and is a leading candidate.

A trial of 108 healthy volunteers in China showed it safely triggered an immune response in participants.

Results published May 22 in The Lancet showed most of the people dosed with the vaccine had immune responses, although their levels of antibodies thought to neutralize the virus were relatively low. Researchers saw a stronger ramp-up of other immune compounds, called T-cells, that might also help fight the infection off.   

Johnson & Johnson 

The drug giant started work on the vaccine in January, two months before Covid-19 was labelled a global pandemic. 

A vaccine trial spearheaded by Johnson and Johnson will start recruiting people in September, with clinical data available by the end of the year.

An ’emergency use’ batch of the vaccine is anticipated to be authorised as early as 2021, which would likely be prioritised for vulnerable people.

CureVac

CureVac, a German company, secured permission last month to begin first phase clinical trials of its attempt at a coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine, named CVnCoV, works by injected RNA designed to force the production of coronavirus-like proteins in the body and trigger an immune response.

The first trials will involved 168 people between the ages of 18 and 60 in Germany and Belgium.

Source: Read Full Article