The Americans have coined a term for it – the cocktail of flu, Covid and RSV. They call it the ‘tripledemic’.
Barclays Capital, tracking the experience of the US, believes this toxic combination could be a problem as we head into the winter period in the northern hemisphere.
Assessing the latest data, the investment bank’s number crunchers have surmised that current levels of flu infection are the highest since 2010 for this, the early part of the season.
At the same time, there has been a rapid uptick in RSV cases, while Barclays observed that ‘Covid appears to be here to stay’.
RSV: Around 500,000 people in the UK each year feel ill enough with the virus to visit the GP
Flu and Covid are well-known to the population, less so RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.
To most, it is nothing more than a mild cold, but to the young, elderly and those whose who are immune-compromised, it can be a threat.
According to NHS figures, around 500,000 people each year feel ill enough with the virus to visit the GP. There are around 18,000 hospitalisations and 8,500 deaths from RSV.
So, it is a threat; not quite up there with Covid, which has killed around 212,000 in the last 32 months, but it is certainly more deadly than flu, the fatalities from which number in the hundreds in any given year.
And while researchers have been looking for an RSV vaccine since the 1960s, nothing has thus far come to light.
However, in the wake of the pandemic there has been an upsurge in interest in finding and perfecting an RSV jab.
And, according to the Hvivo, a small UK firm involved in this area of research, we could be close to uncovering the silver bullet.
‘In the next year or so we should have a vaccine on the market for the first time ever,’ the company’s chief executive, Mo Khan, said recently.
‘This is really good news for the general public in the sense that we will be able to vaccinate infants, the young, the elderly and the immune-compromised.’
Hvivo, formerly known as Open Orphan, is at the very heart of the latest advances – not as a vaccine maker, but helping drug developers assess the efficacy of their putative treatments.
It does this by staging human challenge studies at a specialist centre it owns in Whitechapel, east London, where its scientists are able to monitor the effects of vaccine candidates on healthy volunteers.
It is working with a number of large pharma companies developing jabs for RSV.
Last month it inked a deal with an unnamed US bio-pharma company to stage a phase IIa RSV human challenge trial. This is a contract worth £13.6million – not an insignificant sum by any stretch.
‘The study is unusually large as it has multiple arms demonstrating that sponsors are starting to use hVIVO’s human challenge models for both efficacy and dosing which bodes well for the size of future contract wins,’ noted the company’s broker, Liberum, in a recent research note.
Liberum reckons Hvivo’s sales this year will be just under £50million, generating £7million in underlying earnings (EBITDA). The top line is expected to grow to £54.8million in 2023 giving almost £10million in EBITDA.
‘We think that the company now has visibility over close to 90 per cent of our 2023 revenue forecasts making this a rare beast in today’s febrile economic environment,’ said the broker.
‘This simply isn’t reflected in the current share price.’
That share price of 12.2p values Hvivo at £82million. Liberum reckons the stock is worth 21.6p per share.
For CEO Khan it is less about the share price (that will take care of itself if the company keeps achieving).
It’s the role played by the company to date in the search for an RSV jab. ‘I know for certain Hvivo has helped accelerate the development of these vaccines. Them coming to the market sooner is great news for us all.’
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