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Open Orphan brings in hVIVO founder Prof. John Oxford to head up coronavirus committee (ORPH)

Specialist pharmaceutical firm Open Orphan (LSE:ORPH) has established an advisory board tasked with providing solutions to the current outbreak of coronavirus around the world. The committee will help the company support clients developing antivirals, vaccines, and respiratory therapeutics to fight against the virus, which has so far claimed more than 2,000 lives globally.

Open Orphan is a world-leading provider of virology and vaccines challenge study services, and boasts Europe’s only 24-bedroom quarantine clinic with an onsite virology lab in London.

The new board will be chaired by Professor John Oxford, a professor at Queen Mary’s University London and a leading expert on influenza known for his treatment work on bird fly SARS, and MERS. Critically, Oxford is also one of the founders of hVIVO, the firm with whom Open Orphan merged earlier this year in the fastest London Stock Market takeover for seven-and-a-half years.

The two companies decided to merge because they felt they could offer a more “end-to-end” service as an enlarged entity due to their complementary services. Before the deal, hVIVO – a leading provider of challenge studies – could not advance the drugs it tests onto the pre-clinical, Phase I, and Phase II trial stages as it lacked the capability. As Open Orphan can provide these facilities, the two firms are now beginning to offer an expanded service to existing and new clients, commanding more considerable sums for their contracts.

They are supported in these efforts by the proceeds of a recent £5.3 million placing that was underwritten by executive chairman Cathal Friel. The enlarged group is also pursuing a synergy-driven cost-cutting programme.

Oxford will be joined by Professor Brendan Buckley, a director at Open Orphan. The appointment of the pair to the new advisory board is the latest addition to a long line of personnel changes at Open Orphan. Most recently, on 13 February, the firm revealed that interim chief financial officer Leo Toole would be appointed to his role permanently.

Meanwhile, the company’s merger with hVIVO saw Friel move from his role as chief executive to be replaced by Trevor Phillips, formerly hVIVO’s executive chairman. Phillips is joined by new chief operating officer Tim Sharpington, another former hVIVO executive.

Open Orphan’s shares have enjoyed a strong start to the year, currently sitting 19.8% higher at 5.8p. This gives the company a market capitalisation of £31.8 million. With a growing selection of leading figures handling operations, a vast opportunity in coronavirus, and the likelihood of near-term profitability driven by its recent merger, the firm could enjoy plenty of upside from here.

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