The launch of GlaxoSmithKline’s Covid-19 vaccine trial and a diplomatic tone from activist investor Elliott gave under-fire boss Emma Walmsley a double dose of good news today.
Glaxo said its vaccine developed with France’s Sanofi will be given to more than 35,000 adults as part of a late stage phase III trial ahead of a potential launch later this year.
The global study will initially investigate efficacy against the original Wuhan virus before addressing the South African variant. Recent evidence shows that antibodies created against this variant provide broad cross-protection against other more transmissible ones.
Having got off to a slow start with their collaboration, the two companies still hope the vaccine can be approved by regulators in the final three months of the year. Manufacturing will begin in the coming weeks in order to enable a rapid roll-out.
Earlier this month, Glaxo revealed that phase II trials showed strong immune responses. The latest study will also look at whether the vaccine can serve as a booster to existing jabs.
The progress offers a much-needed lift for Walmsley, given that the west London-based is a major vaccine maker and has been overshadowed by the progress of UK rival AstraZeneca. Shares are also among the worst-performing in the FTSE 100 index.
Elliott recently bought a major stake in Glaxo, leading to expectations that it will demand major changes. But a report in The Times today indicated the US hedge fund is not agitating for a sale of Glaxo’s vaccines and pharmaceuticals business or pushing for cuts to Glaxo’s £5 billion R&D budget.
Elliott has not spoken publicly about its intentions but is believed to have held discussions with other major shareholders.