Australia's CSL to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines, shares up

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

(Reuters) - Australian biotech giant CSL Ltd CSL.AX said on Monday it would manufacture two different COVID-19 vaccine candidates, with the earliest doses due to reach the market early next year, sending its shares nearly 3% higher.

CSL said it expects to supply 30 million doses of a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca AZN.L and Oxford University to the Australian government if trials prove successful, with the first doses to be available in early 2021.

The company also said it had agreed with the Australian government to manufacture and supply 51 million doses of its own vaccine being developed with the University of Queensland, with mid-2021 likely the earliest the vaccine will be delivered.

“Whilst this is potentially wonderful news it must be tempered by the fact that we still don’t know the crucial answers for safety and efficacy,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

CSL is trading at a multiple of 41 times its twelve-month forward earnings, against the industry average of 14, according to Refinitiv data.

“Whilst on one hand it looks very expensive if you use earnings multiples, the company has rarely failed to deliver for its shareholders and I would far rather be holding CSL than short them at this juncture,” McGlew added.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is in late-stage development, is seen as a frontrunner in the global race to deliver an effective vaccine to combat the virus.

The CSL vaccine is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials to assess its safety. CSL expects to take over the Phase 2 and 3 stages in late 2020, if the drug passes Phase 1.

CSL, which last month bumped up its dividend as it reported a better-than-expected annual profit, was on track for its best daily gain in nearly three weeks, against a 0.3% gain on the broader ASX200 index .AXJO.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Stephen Coates and Jane Wardell