'No Room For Error': Novavax Deal Hits Home For Ropes Atty

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (March 9, 2021, 4:58 PM EST) --
Tara Fisher
Tara Fisher
March 12, 2020, was the last time Tara Fisher set foot in her office. The COVID-19 pandemic had officially been declared an emergency in Massachusetts and just about any employee who could work from home was told to do so.

A partner in Ropes & Gray LLP's mergers & acquisitions and capital markets practice groups, Fisher went from being one of about 500 lawyers at the firm working in Boston's iconic Prudential Center to working at home while juggling caring for three small children and adjusting to life in a forever changed world.

Along the way, she helped Novavax Inc. pursue a COVID-19 vaccine aimed at helping to end the pandemic. Fisher and about 20 other attorneys from Ropes' Boston and London offices guided the company through a $167 million acquisition of Czech Republic-based Praha Vaccines in May 2020, a deal that included a manufacturing facility aimed at mass producing the in-the-works vaccine.

"It's one of those transactions that's going to stick with me for a really long time," Fisher said. "It's great to know that I played a role and the firm played a role with respect to their pursuit of the vaccine and their ability to save lives."

The deal for the European facility was followed by a $200 million private investment in public equity transaction with RA Capital Management and a $500 million at-the-market facility. The financing aided Novavax's efforts to develop and mass-produce the vaccine.

In January, the work aided by the lawyers paid off when Novavax announced that its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate showed an 89.3% efficacy rate in a Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the U.K.

Fisher said the deal was, in many ways, a typical cross-border transaction. It came with the usual "last minute fire drills" that she said she and her colleagues are used to working around. But in helping a company ramp up its ability to produce a vaccine intended to stop a scourge that has killed millions, Fisher had to admit it was not just any run-of-the-mill deal.

The vaccination campaign has been a race against the clock to save as many lives as possible through mass inoculation.

"I think we all sort of understand the timeline for this effort is unprecedented and compressed, both with the development, the manufacturing and the distributing. It's unlike anything we have seen before," Fisher said. "There was no room for error."

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told Fox Business on Tuesday that the vaccine will first be available in the U.K., though trials are also ongoing in the U.S., with 30,000 people participating. By the middle of the year, the company expects to be pumping out 150 million doses of the two-shot vaccine every month.

With three FDA-approved vaccines already being distributed in Massachusetts, there are signs that things are getting back to some form of "normal." Not far from Ropes' Boston headquarters, another city landmark, Fenway Park, will welcome a few thousand fans back for Opening Day on April 1.

Ropes has announced that it is setting its sights on Sept. 6 for a more robust return to offices, though attorneys may start coming back sooner if the number of cases continues to drop and the rate of vaccination continues to rise. Fisher said she has been fortunate with those close to her remaining healthy, but she's still felt the pandemic's effects in both her work and personal life.

"I do miss seeing colleagues. There is something not quite the same as being on Zoom," she said. "There is something I miss about being in the office with people, and that will be nice to get back to."

But the biggest challenges have not been the inability to grab coffee with colleagues or quarterbacking nine-figure multinational deals remotely. Fisher said it's been hardest to see her young children miss out on the normal social interactions that kids should have, including seeing their grandparents.

"We won't take for granted the ease of just going to the playground with the kids on the weekend or watching them play sports ever again," she said. "All of that I am really looking forward to doing."

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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