Oxford stands to make over $100 million from developing a successful COVID-19 vaccine.
The University has landed a 6% stake profits from its partnership with AstraZeneca, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.
As part of the deal with the company, the vaccine will be sold without profit during the pandemic. However, if the vaccine is needed subsequently during seasonal returns of the virus, the deal could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the University.
Oxford has said that any profits will be reinvested into medical research, including the University’s new Pandemic Preparedness and Vaccine Research Centre. The centre is being developed alongside AstraZeneca.
Oxford’s leadership acknowledged the importance of profiting from its scientific achievements.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, said that if Oxford did not have a stake in the vaccine, “people are going to come back and say, ‘Oh my God, another British university inventing something worth a ton of money, and guess what, they gave it away for free’.”
“The University didn’t enter this discussion with the idea of making a ton of money. Let’s say [the vaccine] becomes a seasonal coronavirus vaccine, and it sells a billion dollars a year. For us to be sitting there and making no money looks pretty dumb.”
Vice-chancellor Louise Richardson added that Oxford “could have funded an awful lot of medical research since the Second World War”, if it had kept the rights to penicillin last century.
The University began to look for a commercial partner after realising it may struggle to distribute and manufacture the vaccine.
Professor Bell said: “We were headed into the jungle without a machete. We happen to be a rather good university, but universities don’t’ do this stuff.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Oxford closed talks with the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. after concerns that it could not provide the vaccine to poorer countries. Merck offered Oxford 1% in royalties.
The University then turned to UK company AstraZeneca to help manufacture and distribute the vaccine. As part of the deal, the company committed to providing global distribution which did not favour any one country.
A University statement in April, when the deal was reached, said: “Under the new agreement, as well as providing UK access as early as possible if the vaccine candidate is successful, AstraZeneca will work with global partners on the international distribution of the vaccine, particularly working to make it available and accessible for low and medium income countries.”
The University collaborated with its spinout company Vaccitech to develop the vaccine. Oxford holds a stake in Vaccitech, which was founded in 2016 as part of efforts to make University research more commercially competitive. It is backed by investment institutions such as GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Sequoia Capital China.
Oxford produced 62 spinout ventures between 2007-16, more than any other university. The companies aim to turn a profit and channel money back into University research.
The University says that Vaccitech will not receive royalties during the pandemic.
The University of Oxford has been contacted for comment.
Image credit: Felipe Esquivel Reed, Wikimedia Commons