A potential coronavirus vaccine
(Getty)
  • Oxford university is working on a promising vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, as the world scrambles to get ahead of Covid-19.
  • The university has a special relationship with a company that commercialises its work, Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI).
  • And South African fund Sygnia – and its ultimate beneficiaries – happen to own a very large chunk of Oxford Sciences Innovation as of recently.
  • But there is a special clause in place during a global pandemic, which means the OSI shareholders only get to profit after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


One of the most promising vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, could have a large number of South African shareholders eventually – but they won't benefit until the global pandemic is over.

Oxford University has already started trials as part of a fast-track vaccine testing process that, as of late April, has global pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca behind it.

Researchers are confident in the prospects of the vaccine, though it faces fierce competition from many quarters to be the first that goes to market.

See also: Trump says the US will have a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year

Oxford University has an exclusive deal with the company Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) to commercialise all its research. OSI automatically receives a half-share of any equity that Oxford University claims in companies set up by its academics. The university has the right to demand up to half the equity in any such companies, which would make OSI's stake 25%.

And currently OSI's biggest shareholder is South African fund manager Sygnia, which also holds a board seat on the company.

Right now Sygnia's stake in OSI is 16%, the company's  Magda Wierzycka told broadcaster Alec Hogg this week

Thanks to the way capital is injected into Oxford spinout companies, OSI owns a little under half of Vaccitech, the company that has been working on coronavirus vaccines.

See also: Magda Wierzycka's Sygnia involved in 'wrangling' over an Oxford science fund

But while that gives South African investors in some of Sygnia's fund, including a special vehicle for OSI ownership, a big stake in the vaccine, they won't benefit initially, in any way.

Oxford refuses to benefit from a disaster, and preventing such profiteering is built into the OSI relationship.

Under the AstraZeneca deal the Covid-19 vaccine, if successful, will be produced on a non-profit basis. There will be no royalties initially, the institution said, and any later royalties will go back into health research.

The vaccine will be manufactured and sold at cost until one year after the World Health Organisation declares the virus is no longer a pandemic, Wierzycka said.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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