Covid- 19: the race for a vaccine

by | Mar 31, 2020

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Person wearing face mask in Covid-19 pandemic

Are any of your portfolio companies working on treatments or tests?
John Glencross, CEO of Calculus Capital which manages the Calculus VCT, said: “Our portfolio company Mologic is developing a rapid test for coronavirus. They have been awarded £1 million of UK Aid to develop this test. On the back of this, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Mologic’s lab in Bedfordshire, where scientists are using expertise and experience from previous epidemics to create a quicker and cheaper way to diagnose coronavirus. This rapid test could mean results are provided in 20 minutes, and without the need of a medical professional or sending samples to labs for testing. This will mean patients can be treated quickly, reducing the risk of them passing the virus on to others and helping them to recover faster.

“Another portfolio company, Genedrive, has pivoted part of its core resources towards development of two SARS-COV-2 tests, which can determine whether someone is infected with coronavirus. They anticipate that a clinically validated test could be available in approximately eight weeks. Based on discussions with sizeable third-party suppliers the company expects it could have the ability to ramp up quickly to high production volumes of over 10,000 tests per hour.

“Finally, a third portfolio company, Yourgene Health, has unveiled a contract manufacturing agreement with Novacyt SA for a COVID-19 diagnostic test. Under the deal, Yourgene will use its manufacturing facility in Manchester, UK, to ramp up production of Novacyt’s COVID-19 test, with the first batches to be shipped from the Manchester site in the next few weeks.”

Trevor M. Polischuk, Portfolio Manager of Worldwide Healthcare Trust, said: “Many companies are accelerating their efforts in the anti-viral space in hopes of creating a treatment to help already infected patients. In Japan, Takeda’s recent acquisition of Shire and their plasma derived therapy business has led to an investigational new treatment to boost the immune function of infected COVID-19 patients. Chugai’s anti-inflammatory drug, Actemra, may also be useful in treating infected patients who are suffering from severe lung dysfunction resulting from coronavirus.”

Ailsa Craig, Manager of International Biotechnology Trust, said: “The only way to prevent COVID-19 is through a vaccine or self-isolation. There is no other way of protecting people from infection. In terms of treatments, yes there are many programmes ongoing. Gilead has the most advanced potential treatment in terms of timescale. They expect their trials to read out in April for a drug called remdesivir. This is an anti-viral drug which was in development for another virus, Ebola. Gilead has initiated two phase 3 trials in China and several more in the US. We owned Gilead in the portfolio prior to the outbreak due to its compelling valuation and solid HIV business and we have added to the position in recent months.”

What is the impact of the sell-off?
James Douglas and Gareth Powell, Co-Managers of Polar Capital Global Healthcare Trust, said: “We have a high level of conviction that the recent market sell-off is creating some really interesting, medium-term opportunities in the healthcare sector. Unless you take the view that the demand for healthcare services is permanently impaired, we believe we will see a strong recovery.”

Paul Major, Manager of BB Healthcare Trust, said: “As with all market sell-offs, the second phase is disordered and largely indiscriminate and this has created some interesting opportunities, especially in mid-cap specialty pharma/biotech, services and managed care. We have been gradually increasing our gross exposure for about a week now and will continue to do so, albeit at a measured pace. We think the overall risk/reward is now to the upside, with many of the ‘unknowns’ around this epidemic and its impact now well appreciated, if not fully quantifiable. We see many companies where sentiment is already baking in a worst-case scenario.”
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