AstraZeneca sells stake in Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna for more than $1bn

The British pharmaceutical firm sold its 7.7% holding in the US biotechnology company last year as its shares rose on vaccine breakthrough

FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the headquarters of Moderna Inc, which is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 18, 2020.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo
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UK drugs manufacturer AstraZeneca sold its entire stake in Moderna last year as shares of the US biotechnology firm surged after its Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough.

AstraZeneca, which was the second-biggest shareholder in Moderna with a 7.7 per cent stake, generated more than $1 billion from the divestment, The Times reported on Monday.

In a regulatory filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Cambridge, England-based AstraZeneca said it sold a "proportion of its equity portfolio, receiving [a] consideration of $1.38 billion, a large proportion of which [was] related to the disposal of its full holding in Moderna".

The company received a boost in "net cash inflow before financing activities" through the disposal of non-current asset investments, thanks largely to its divestment of Moderna stake, it said in its full year earnings statement, without saying when in 2020 it sold its Moderna stock.

Moderna, whose fortunes have been transformed by the success of its novel mRNA technology, has seen its shares rise about 720 per cent since January 2020. Shares in the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company leaped to a peak of $156.93 in December last year from $18.89 in January 2020. They closed 4.3 per cent higher at $154.81 on Friday, valuing the company at $62bn. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are the only three pharmaceutical companies whose vaccines are approved for emergency use in the US.

Last week, Moderna said it expects to earn $18.4bn from its coronavirus vaccine this year. That is higher than the $15bn sales estimate of rival Pfizer, which has jointly developed its vaccine with Germany's BioNTech.

Covid-19 has infected more than 114 million people globally, with 90.25 million recoveries. The death toll from the pandemic has risen to more than 2.45 million, according to data from Worldometers, which tracks the disease globally.

Proceeds from the Moderna share sale, estimated to be about $1.2bn, will support the development of AstraZeneca's own drugs pipeline. It will also help the firm complete its biggest acquisition, the $39bn purchase of Alexion, an American rare diseases specialist, according to The Times.

Unlike Moderna, AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, produced in partnership with Oxford University, is being sold on a non-profit basis during the pandemic. The Anglo-Swedish company’s core business focuses on oncology, respiratory and cardiovascular medicines. AstraZeneca was not a big player in the area of vaccines before the pandemic.

Despite selling the stake in Moderna, AstraZeneca, one of Britian's top drugs manufacturer, retains a partnership with the US company on other diseases and could sell the Oxford vaccine on a commercial basis in future if the virus becomes endemic, according to The Times.