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Small Cap Movers: Open Orphan makes headlines with government contract for COVID-19 vaccine study

A look back at some of the more interesting stories from London's junior market in the past week

Open Orphan PLC -

Open Orphan PLC (LON:ORPH) made national headlines this week after winning a multi-million pound UK government coronavirus (COVID-19) contract.

While there are over a hundred companies working on vaccines, the pharma services specialist is part of a much smaller group able to stage human challenge studies of these new inoculations.

Open Orphan, which rocketed 450% higher to 26p in the year to date, will first manufacture a copy of the virus, test it and then use it in three trials sponsored by the government.

The firm has already received £7.5mln in cash deposits but the contract overall could be worth £40mln depending on how trials progress.

The modelling of the virus is now underway, with testing scheduled for early next year, though there are no estimates on when the first data could be out because of the unpredictability of this unique study.

Turning to the wider market, the AIM-All Share dipped 0.5% over the week to 972, but still outperformed the FTSE 100, which was down 1% to 5,850.

One of the junior market’s biggest companies, boohoo Group PLC (LON:BOO), fell 12% to 275p after it confirmed reports that PwC, its auditor since 2014, is stepping down after the scandal of worker exploitation at a suppliers’ factories in Leicester.

Following the share price fall, executive chairman and co-founder Mahmud Kamani bought 300,000 shares at 243p each, upping his stake to 12.55%. Chief financial officer Neil Catto’s wife Catherine and deputy chairman Brian Small also upped their stakes to 0.075% and 0.005% respectively.

Sticking with the fallers, insurance premium finance specialist Orchard Funding Group (LON:ORCH) tumbled 22% to 50p after it decided to withdraw its application for a banking licence due to the current market uncertainty.

Elsewhere, Alba Mineral Resources PLC (LON:ALBA) shed a tenth of its value to 0.47p despite flagging up that its exploration programme at the Clogau-St David's Gold Mine should not be affected by the two-week lockdown in Wales.

Among the risers, 4D pharma plc (LON:DDDD) surged 26% higher to 120p after announcing it will get a cash injection of US$14.6mln through a merger with Longevity Acquisition Corporation (NASDAQ:LOAC), a special purpose acquisition company.

Evgen Pharma (LON:EVG) was up 11%  at 13.74p on Friday after it said it had received all approvals for a mid-stage trial of a treatment for acute respiratory infections.

Sticking to the healthcare sector, Futura Medical PLC (LON:FUM) jumped 8% to 15p after noting regulatory progress in the US for its erectile dysfunction gel, which is gaining interest among potential partners for commercialisation.

This week saw a flurry of fundraisers with companies turning to the market to bolster their balance sheets or to fund ongoing projects and acquisitions.

Hydrogen energy equipment manufacturer ITM Power PLC (LON:ITM) raised £165mln through a placing and a share subscription to invest in its operations, similarly, computer vision technology company Seeing Machines Limited (LON:SEE) tapped investors for £15.3mln to strengthen its balance sheet.

In mining, Shanta Gold Limited (LON:SHG) brought in £31mln, while All Active Asset Capital Limited (LON:AAA) banked £11.5mln.

Finally, SourceBio, a provider of laboratory services and products to the pharma sector, announced plans to list next week, though it hasn’t said yet how much it plans to raise.

It is part of a flurry of new listings we’ve seen over recent weeks – with investment bank finnCap Group PLC (LON:FCAP) advising many of these newly public businesses.

“The last three years have seen political uncertainty that made it difficult for entrepreneurs and investors to take long-term decisions. As that uncertain abates and even despite the issues that we currently face we are seeing the return of the IPO market,” said Christopher Raggett, finnCap’s co-head of corporate finance.

“Some of this can be attributed to concerns around potential changes to the CGT [capital gains tax] regime in the UK. But more positively, recent events have demonstrated that the equity capital markets are a fantastic source of capital – having access to that deep pool of potential investment is extremely attractive in an uncertain world.”

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