Novavax bosses cash out for $46 million with COVID-19 vaccine trials still under way

FILE PHOTO: A small shopping basket filled with vials labeled “COVID-19 – Coronavirus Vaccine” and medical sryinges are placed on a Novavax logo in this illustration taken November 29, 2020. Picture taken November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration/

(Reuters) – Top executives at U.S. pharmaceutical company Novavax Inc aren’t waiting to see how well their COVID-19 vaccine works before they reap the financial rewards.

Chief Executive Stanley Erck and three of his top lieutenants have sold roughly $46 million of company stock since the start of last year, according to a Reuters review of securities filings, capitalizing on a near 3,000% rally in Novavax shares fueled by investors betting on the success of the shot under development.

Erck cashed out $8.7 million over the course of 2020, eclipsing the $2.2 million in shares he sold in the previous five years. The stock sale amounts to more than 20% of his vested stake in Novavax, or less than 10% if stock options that are yet to vest are counted, according to the review of the filings, an analysis by compensation consultant Farient Advisors LLC and a company spokeswoman.

The lucrative liquidations, which have not previously been reported, underscore the transformation in Novavax’s fortunes during the global pandemic and the opportunity for its executives to lock in big profits from market optimism.

There is no certainty that Novavax, which has yet to bring a vaccine to market, will be successful in its latest endeavor. The 34-year-old company has become a key contender in a global race to develop vaccines against COVID-19 thanks to $1.6 billion in taxpayer funding it received under the U.S. government’s “Operation Warp Speed” program.

The Gaithersburg, Maryland-based company was worth only $250 million until about a year ago, when news of its experimental vaccine and its participation in Operation Warp Speed drove its valuation up to as much as $11 billion.

A Novavax spokeswoman said the executives were responsible for the stock sales.

“Our leaders remain confident in the value and potential of our vaccines and are passionately committed to contributing to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and improving public health around the world,” Novavax said in a statement. “They continue to hold substantial personal and professional interest in Novavax’ success as well as a financial one.”

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