Little-known Irish pharma firm Open Orphan is among best performing on stock exchange on Covid-19 work

Firm tapping millions of euro in contracts from the UK government and other institutions to advise on human clinical trials used in testing Covid vaccines
Little-known Irish pharma firm Open Orphan is among best performing on stock exchange on Covid-19 work

Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Irish pharmaceutical company Open Orphan.

A little known Irish pharma firm, Open Orphan, is among the best performers on the Irish Stock Exchange this year after tapping millions of euro in contracts from the British government and other institutions to put together and advise on human clinical trials used in testing Covid-19 vaccines, the Irish Examiner can reveal.  

Its shares have climbed over 340% since the middle of January, and have risen 65% in the last month, to value the firm on Thursday at €167m, according to data from Euronext Dublin.

The firm has prospered this year as governments around the world spent massive amounts on Covid-19 vaccine research, in particular, and also on a wide range of other diseases as global health services creaked under the pandemic. 

The company specialises in providing research facilities and not on developing drugs.                                  

On Thursday, Open Orphan said its subsidiary hVivo had secured a contract to head up a group that includes international researchers and the prestigious Wellcome Trust, to help shape "regulatory style guidelines" in making agents for use in human clinical trials. 

Open Orphan shares had risen sharply since October when it announced a £10m (€11m) contract with the British government to develop human trials that could be used in testing Covid-19 vaccines. 

The contract also involved hVivo working with Imperial College London, the Royal Free Hospital's specialist research unit, and using hVivo's facility at Queen Mary's Bioenterprise Centre, also in London. 

Cathal Friel, executive chairman at Open Orphan, is also known for his role in heading up Raglan Capital and for his extensive involvement in newspaper and media deal-making across Ireland over 15 years ago when he worked at Merrion Capital. 

According to a presentation for investors on the company's website, Mr Friel owns about 19% of the company, which values his stake at over €31.7m. Invesco is the second-largest shareholder, with a stake of 7.9%.

Meanwhile, shares in Moderna, the US drug firm which this week reported extremely promising results for its phase 3 trial of its Covid-19 vaccine, continued to climb on Thursday. Moderna shares rose 6%.  

Shares in BioNTech, the German firm that is behind the Pfizer vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, also rose, by over 3% in Frankfurt trade. Shares in Pfizer traded 1% lower in the US, however.    

Other trial results from developers of rival potential vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and CureVac, are expected in the coming months. 

On Thursday, data from Oxford University, which is developing a vaccine candidate with AstraZeneca, showed it has produced a strong immune response in older adults, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas.

The data, reported in part last month but published in full in The Lancet medical journal, suggest that those aged over 70, who are at higher risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19, could build robust immunity.

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