Saturday, November 27

A year that changed the world and the fortunes of medical companies | Pharmaceutical industry

TThe pandemic has taken a heavy toll on businesses, destroying main streets when household names went bankrupt. But for some lesser-known companies, the last 18 months have been transformative. Those that have thrived did so by carving out a new niche, with products as varied as Covid sequencing technology kits and surgical masks with virus-killing coatings. We asked some about the year everything changed.

Oxford Nanopore

Oxford Nanopore, whose coronavirus sequencing technology has played an important role in tracking variants globally, last week confirmed plans to float in one of the biggest debuts of the year on the London Stock Exchange. The float is expected to make two of its three founders millionaires, all scientists who met at Oxford.

Chief Executive Gordon Sanghera will retain a gold share, giving him the power to block acquisitions for three years. The goal is to transform Nanopore into a multibillion-pound group before it can be swallowed by a rival.

The company, sprouted from the University of Oxford in 2005, expects to surpass a £ 2.4 billion valuation achieved in a fundraising round in May, and plans to tap into the burgeoning genome sequencing market, estimated at $ 5.7 billion. Nanopore also won £ 144 million worth of Covid testing contracts from the Department of Health and Social Care last year. Its 2020 revenue more than doubled to £ 114 million in what it called a “pivotal year”, from £ 52 million in 2019. It aims to cut its losses to break even in five years.


The London-listed Swiss-based company has developed a surgical mask with an ultra-thin copper layer that kills viruses and bacteria. Studies from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia, showed that copper-treated fabrics significantly inactivated the coronavirus in as little as five minutes.

HeiQ launched its “Viroblock” technology in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit, and it is used today by 150 major brands – Burberry includes it in a line of reusable masks. Revenue increased 80% last year. By the end of 2020, the company had been listed on the London Stock Exchange, raising £ 60 million. Chief Executive Carlo Centonze called the pandemic a “tipping point for antimicrobial textiles.”

Pack shots of the Viroblock mask
HeiQ Viroblock antiviral masks have an ultra-thin copper layer. Photography: HeiQ Viroblock


Synairgen’s share price has soared 342% since July 2020, when the University of Southampton affiliate made a breakthrough with a coronavirus treatment. The company has gone from having fewer than 20 employees before Covid to about 100, including the self-employed. Numis analysts forecast revenue of up to £ 582 million from the Covid treatment next year.

The drug is based on a discovery made at the university’s medical school nearly two decades ago by three professors, Stephen Holgate, Donna Davies and Ratko Djukanovic, who still serve as consultants to the company. The trio found that people with asthma and chronic lung disease lacked a protein called interferon beta. They created Synairgen in 2004 to develop interferon beta treatments to increase patients’ defenses against viral infection.

The company’s main drug, developed to treat COPD lung disease, is an inhaled interferon beta that patients self-administer through a battery-operated hand-held nebulizer. In May, shares rose again when the company said that interim trials of the drug, which is administered directly to the lungs of patients to prevent severe respiratory illness caused by Covid, had shown “potent antiviral activity” against two variants of the drug. Covid. The tests also demonstrated “broad-spectrum antiviral activity” against other respiratory viruses such as RSV, adenovirus, and influenza.

Executive Director Richard Marsden says that as the drug “activates the immune system,” the team is confident that it will work against any variant. Assuming clinical trials in 17 countries are successful, Synairgen expects to apply for global regulatory approval early next year and is expanding manufacturing.

Oxford Biomedica

Oxford Biomedica is one of the companies that manufactures the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. It started manufacturing in late 2020 after signing an 18-month supply agreement with the drugmaker last September, and has since doubled its production capacity at Oxbox in Oxford, in the former Royal Mail sorting office of the city.

The gene and cell therapy specialist was founded in 1995 as a spin-out of Oxford University, floated the following year, and moved to the FTSE 250 last year. Biomedica has manufactured tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca jab and doubled its estimate of vaccine revenue to £ 100 million in May. It expects “significant” growth in operating profit this year from £ 7.3 million last year. Jefferies analysts say the supply deal with AstraZeneca is likely to extend beyond March 2022, but they believe vaccine sales will fall, especially in the developed world.

Not everything is rosy. Biomedica is believed to be close to appointing a new CEO to replace John Dawson after a controversial new salary policy. The company has given foreign executives much higher share bonuses and US-based non-executive directors an additional fee of up to £ 50,000 a year, which was criticized by ISS governance experts for creating a structure two-tier payment.

Croda International

CEO Steve Foots has described the East Yorkshire company’s involvement in the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine as his “proudest moment in more than 30 years.” Last summer it acquired a company that makes lipid nanoparticles. These are tiny droplets of fat that encapsulate genetic material called mRNA and allow it to enter cells, produce the coronavirus spike protein, and prime the immune system to fight disease.

Croda supplies the puncture particles to Pfizer / BioNTech and is involved in more than 100 Covid-19 projects around the world. This has skyrocketed its sales and earnings and catapulted its share price to record levels.

The company is on track to earn at least $ 200 million from lipid systems this year, double what was originally thought, as Pfizer and BioNTech have increased vaccine production and are aiming to produce 3 billion injections this year. and 4 billion next. Annual earnings, Croda said in late July, would be “significantly ahead” of forecasts, after a record first-half profit of £ 230 million, up 50% from 2020 and 35% in 2019. One-year-old company is evolving into a cosmetics and life sciences company, moving away from industrial chemicals.

Test providers

The pandemic has spawned a new generation of Covid-19 test makers, including Abingdon Health, Novacyt, Omega Diagnostics, and Genedrive.

Novacyt, a London-listed Anglo-French firm, launched the first coronavirus test in Europe in January 2020 and landed lucrative government contracts. Chief Executive Graham Mullis hailed a “transformational year” in 2020 in which Novacyt’s future was secured and it had paid off all long-term debt. However, its relationship with the UK government soured over a £ 150 million contract to supply PCR test machines and kits, when the company complained in April that it had not been paid and the contract was not extended. . Novacyt’s revenue in the six months to June rose 50% to £ 95 million, with £ 41 million from the government still in dispute.

Abingdon’s share price spiked in late August when it released a £ 32.85 fingerstick test that tells people if they are protected against the coronavirus after vaccination or infection. The York-based company has high hopes for the new test, which comes after a difficult few months. It issued an earnings warning in April amid a dispute with the UK government over unpaid bills for a different test, which was rejected by the UK health regulator for home use due to concerns about accuracy. Abingdon disputes that finding, referring to a study by PHE and other scientists, and also notes that the new test is different.

Russ Mold of stockbroker AJ Bell says: “If the virus refuses to go away, that could still spark new enthusiasm in these companies and their prospects, and even if Covid is ultimately rejected, many employers and individuals could still follow. with trial programs as a form of peace of mind or even as a means to reopen businesses. “

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