Feature

The long shot

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Science  06 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6517, pp. 649-653
DOI: 10.1126/science.370.6517.649

Summary

Eighteen months ago, a small vaccinemaker called Novavax faced an existential threat: delisting by the NASDAQ stock index. On the heels of a second failed vaccine trial in less than 3 years, the firm's shares had plunged to less than $1 for 30 straight days, triggering a warning by NASDAQ. Frantic to conserve cash, the company sold its two Maryland manufacturing facilities, slicing its payroll by more than 100 employees. By January, it employed only 166 people. "Good ideas. Bad management. … The company will probably die soon," a former Novavax manager wrote on Glassdoor.com in October 2019. What a difference a year—and a pandemic—make. Today, buoyed by up to $2 billion in U.S. and nonprofit funding, Novavax is hiring employees by the hundreds, readying manufacturing facilities on three continents and preparing this month to launch a pivotal, 30,000-person North American trial of its COVID-19 vaccine. That vaccine, which outshone others in key measures in early animal and human trials, has driven the company's share prices to above $80. Scientists and analysts alike are watching closely to see whether the vaccine—the first protein-based vaccine to enter late-stage trials—might prove superior to those from the big pharmaceutical firms that were first out of the gate in the COVID-19 vaccine race.

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