Researchers around the world are working on more than 150 different coronavirus vaccines, with 26 already reaching the human trial stage. “My Pillow Guy’s” claimed cure or hydroxychloroquine treatment, both touted at one point by President Donald Trump, are officially not in the running.
In the US, there are four companies that have coronavirus vaccine candidates in the late-stage clinical phase, backed by the Trump administration’s Covid-19 vaccine program, Operation Warp Speed.
Despite the fact that there will be only one to cross the finish line first, all companies involved have benefited greatly from the race, with stocks surging up to 2,400% year to date.
Overall, coronavirus vaccine stocks grew over 670% year-to-date, compared to the S&P 500, which has gained just about 3% over the same period.
Our top 7 stocks to watch on the COVID testing and vaccine playing field:
#1 Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)
Johnson & Johnson's revealed some positive news yesterday sending its stock up as much as 2%, with its pharmaceutical arm Janssen entering into phase 3 trials earlier this week, generally, the last phase before a product reaches the general public.
The company anticipates the first batch of vaccine to be available early next year, with as many as 60,000 volunteers expected to be enrolled in the trial at up to nearly 215 clinical research sites in the United States and abroad.
Johnson & Johnson says it could produce a billion doses a year, and claims to have a leg up against the competitors because it will reportedly only require a single dose and will not have to be frozen.
#2/3 Pfizer/BioNTech (NYSE:PFE) (NASDAQ:BNTX)
Shares in both Pfizer and BioNtech have shed some gains this week, but they’re definitely not out of this game, which is a highly fickle one.
Pfizer, whose stock is down by 6% year-to-date, and German firm BioNTech believe they can have a vaccine for regulatory approval by the middle of October or early November. However, medical professionals and government officials have expressed a fair amount of skepticism.
The two companies have said they would increase the size of the study to 44,000 participants, up from an initial recruitment goal of 30,000 individuals.
In July, the U.S. government announced a $1.95-billion agreement with Pfizer to produce 100 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States. The deal also allows the U.S. government to acquire an additional 500 million doses.
Year-to-date, Pfizer stock is down from $39.14 to $35.76, but analyst consensus on Pfizer is $41.79 per share as of Thursday, with a fairly strong “Buy” recommendation coming out of Wall Street.
#4 Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA)
Moderna stock is also down this week, but this is the only one in the group that is coming from a tiny position offering bigger upside.
This summer, Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 was the first in the U.S. to enter late-stage testing, but the company is now suggesting that full approval wouldn’t come until early 2022.
In late August, Moderna, which has seen its stock rally 240% this year but is now down by about 30% from its July highs, reported that its vaccine candidate induced immune responses in older adults in Phase I clinical trial, indicating its potential for use across age groups.
Data showed that the older adults’ antibody levels were two to three times higher than those found in patients who had recovered from Covid-19.
Earlier this week, FDA vaccine advisory committee chairwoman Hana El Sahly resigned from her post amid concerns about her ties to a Moderna. Media reported that El Sahly served as a lead investigator of Moderna's vaccine.
#5 AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN)
AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate had been widely perceived to be one of the most advanced contenders globally but the study was halted over safety concerns.
AstraZeneca’s YTD return is up 10.57% and the company started its Phase 3 vaccine trial this month. However, it remains on pause in the U.S. after a participant in the UK was reported to have developed a spinal cord injury. Currently, it is still waiting on federal approval to resume the U.S. clinical trial, so any news on that will move the stock one way or another.
#6 Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX)
Novavax is also expected to begin its final testing on its vaccine soon. The Maryland-based company's vaccine candidate, NVX?CoV2373, is in the latter half of its phase 1/2 clinical trial and shares are up more than 2,400% this year. This one had tons of upside earlier this year, but now is a dance with death. If anything goes wrong, anyone left holding the bag after having jumped in mid-ride will pay dearly.
#7 Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT)
Vaxart has gone from zero to hero, but remains the clear underdog. Its stock responds negatively to positive news from any of the big players in this game.
Vaxart is preparing for patient Phase 1 patient enrollment trials for its oral vaccine, but it’s still approximately a year behind the bigger players, even though an oral vaccine would be an advantage that could reduce the chances of getting squeezed out here. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
This one has a ton of potential upside, but very little staying power at the moment, with each new move a company like Johnson & Johnson makes. If you want to play this one, you have to play JNJ at the same time and in opposite directions.
By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com
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