Mad Hedge Biotech & Healthcare Letter
January 28, 2021
(WATCH OUT FOR THESE BUYOUT STOCKS)
(TBIO), (MRNA), (PFE), (BNTX), (SNY), (BLUE), (BMY)
Mad Hedge Biotech & Healthcare Letter
January 28, 2021
(WATCH OUT FOR THESE BUYOUT STOCKS)
(TBIO), (MRNA), (PFE), (BNTX), (SNY), (BLUE), (BMY)
Many predictions this 2021 probably won’t pan out. However, here’s a pretty safe bet: we will see a number of biotechnology company acquisitions this year.
Although it’s not easy to accurately forecast which biotechnology companies will be involved in these deals, there is a handful that qualifies as prime acquisition targets.
One of the top biotech buyout candidates in my radar this year is Translate Bio (TBIO).
Thanks to the massive success of the COVID-19 programs of Moderna (MRNA), Pfizer (PFE), and BioNTech (BNTX), a spotlight has been cast on the benefits of the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if bigger players in the healthcare industry decide to scoop up smaller players to stake a claim in this quickly growing space.
Among all the small-cap biotechs in play, Translate Bio is easily one of the top prospects.
Before Moderna and BioNTech hogged the spotlight with their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, Translate Bio was actually one of the strong contenders in the race. Unfortunately, it failed to keep up with its peers and is now lagging well behind the leaders.
On the flip side, the attention that mRNA technology has been getting these days seemed to have strengthened the confidence of investors in the technology – an effect that Translate Bio greatly benefited from in the past months.
Despite its lagging performance in the COVID-19 race, Translate Bio has been making significant progress with its work with partner Sanofi (SNY) on their own candidate, MRT5500. If all goes well, then the product should be out by the first quarter of 2021.
Apart from that, the two have been focusing on different vaccine candidates for other viral and bacterial diseases.
Translate Bio’s pipeline also includes treatments targeting another lucrative market using the same MRT platform technology as MRT5500: cystic fibrosis (CF).
The company’s CF treatment has been causing excitement among investors because instead of offering invasive therapy, this option offers patients an inhaled version of the mRNA drug as treatment.
Moreover, the MRT platform technology of Translate Bio could be expanded to cover more than just CF – a promising diversification that encouraged big investors like Sanofi to continuously pour money into collaborations with this Massachusetts-based biotech.
As mRNA technology gains more traction, Sanofi might even reevaluate its relationship with Translate Bio and decide that it wants more than just a collaboration.
With the smaller biotech company’s modest market capitalization of only a little over $1.7 billion, an acquisition could be on the table sooner rather than later.
Another potential buyout candidate is Bluebird bio (BLUE).
Unlike its contemporaries in the biotech space, Bluebird shares plunged by nearly 50% in 2020.
Although the company offers a promising upside potential, it can’t seem to generate sufficient enthusiasm to take part in the biotech sector’s rally last year.
In fact, Blue stock continued to hover near its 52-week low despite several gene and cell therapy tickers reaching all-time highs.
While that’s obviously bad news for Bluebird shareholders, I think this makes the company an even more attractive acquisition candidate.
I think it’s important to determine the reasons behind Bluebird’s abysmal 2020 performance.
The stock had a rocky start last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating its overall meltdown.
One of Blue’s major roadblock was its failure to secure approval from the FDA for its multiple myeloma treatment, which it has been working on with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY).
Then, it delayed its submission for approval of its sickle cell disease treatment LentiGlobin. This was initially set for the second half of 2021 but was pushed to late 2022.
The main takeaway from this streak of negative updates is that Blue still doesn’t have its act together when it comes to dealing with regulatory approval processes.
Regardless, the potential of this biotech’s pipeline remains impressive.
Apart from its work with Bristol and LentiGlobin, Bluebird has been working on a late-stage candidate for treatment of a rare metabolic disorder called cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy with Lenti-D.
Prior to its partnership with Bristol, Bluebird was actually partnered with Celgene.
When Celgene was bought by Bristol in 2019, the bigger company continued the collaboration with Blue and expanded the partnership to cover more genetic disorders and extend to oncology treatments.
Due to the setbacks, Bluebird’s market capitalization now hovers somewhere near $3 billion.
Given all these pipeline candidates and its future plans, I suspect it wouldn’t take long before a major player takes notice of this attractive valuation and puts this bird in a cage.
Overall, both Translate Bio and Bluebird are solid companies in the biotechnology space.
While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down some of their progress, the products in their pipelines could yield substantial value to interested acquisition partners.
Mad Hedge Biotech & Healthcare Letter
January 19, 2021
(CAN NOVAVAX EXTEND ITS WINNING STREAK?)
(NVAX), (MRNA), (PFE), (AZN), (BNTX), (BTC)
Would you believe that there was a bigger winner than Bitcoin (BTC) in 2020?
Amid the fanfare generated by COVID-19 vaccine developers like Moderna (MRNA) and Pfizer (PFE), there’s one biotechnology company that has quietly boosted its humble $4 share price to an impressive $128: Novavax (NVAX).
As incredible as that sounds, this isn’t the most unbelievable prediction for Novavax.
Despite recording a jaw-dropping 2,600% increase last year, this Maryland-based biotechnology company is projected to sustain the momentum in 2021 and beyond.
Let me share how Novavax can achieve a long-lasting winning streak.
Unlike Moderna and Pfizer, Novavax did not utilize RNA technology to develop NVX-CoV2373. Instead, the company opted for a more established approach.
The decision to pursue a more established technology could be viewed as a cost-cutting strategy for Novavax.
Doing so means dramatically lowering supply chain pressures, such as storage issues.
In effect, the Novavax vaccine would be the more convenient option that offers an equally potent result.
At this point, Novavax has yet to reveal its Phase 3 trial results. The tests, which involve trials in the UK, would prove to be the turning point for the company’s future.
Here’s a rough estimate of how the results could affect Novavax shares.
If the results show that NVX-CoV2373 is 90% effective, this would put the vaccine in the same league as Pfizer and Moderna. Consequently, shares will go up by 30% with this news.
Meanwhile, an efficacy result clocking in at less than 80% would have the stock falling by up to 20% primarily due to the strong competition in the COVID-19 market.
Approximately $40 billion in COVID-19 revenue is at stake this year.
While competitors Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca (AZN) have already had their vaccines approved for emergency use, Novavax still has a strong chance of getting a piece of the action.
Despite these candidates getting rolled out in other countries, Novavax’s NVAX-CoV2373 remains a heavy favorite among experts and analysts alike.
At this rate, NVX-CoV2373 could generate at least $4 billion of the $40 billion COVID-19 market in 2021.
Considering that Novavax has an $8 billion market capitalization, this alone more than justifies the company’s valuation.
Admittedly, Pfizer and Moderna hold the competitive advantage in being the first to market. It wouldn’t be surprising if both would end up gobbling up market share while Novavax awaits regulatory approval.
More importantly, both have achieved the coveted name recognition when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine so that could offer them power in the soon-to-be-crowded marketplace down the road.
However, both vaccine leaders have a considerable drawback.
Their vaccines require extremely delicate storage and transportation.
In fact, Pfizer and BioNTech’s (BNTX) BNT162b2 must be stored at minus 94 degrees—a requirement that not all countries, much less commercial distributors could adhere to.
This is where Novavax’s vaccine comes in.
NVX-CoV2373 can be stored and transported at refrigerated temperatures. This means it would be easier to distribute particularly in remote areas.
Any hiccups with storage or transportation involving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines could offer Novavax an opening to generate vaccine sales that would otherwise no longer be available.
This scenario would translate to a more dominant presence of Novavax in the second half of 2021 until the early part of 2022.
Pfizer and Moderna may have been the first to market, but Novavax’s vaccine holds the potential to generate a sizable impact on sales over the long term.
In terms of revenue, the vaccine would be a significant boost for Novavax. It would transform from a zero product revenue to billions in a short period.
While Novavax has yet to announce the official pricing for the product, we can use its US price of $16 per dose as a benchmark for the rest of the contracts.
So far, Novavax has secured roughly orders for 300 million doses in the US alone. This would amount to $4.8 billion in sales—and all signs point to the number climbing higher this year.
Novavax has been ramping up its capacity to produce as many as 2 billion doses by mid-2021.
In comparison, Pfizer has a maximum capacity of 1.3 billion doses this year while Moderna would peak at 1 billion.
Evidently, Novavax holds an edge over the two companies in terms of capacity to fill orders.
Outside its COVID-19 efforts, Novavax has another potential blockbuster in its pipeline.
Although data is sparse, the company is expected to file for regulatory approval for its experimental flu vaccine called NanoFlu.
Oddly enough, NanoFlu was the reason that Novavax trounced the cryptocurrency surges in 2020.
Investors got all fired up following the promising showing of the flu vaccine candidate, with the stock gaining unprecedented attention when it reported remarkable results in a head-to-head study against the leading flu vaccine in the market today, Sanofi’s (SNY) FluZone Quadrivalent.
With all these in mind, Novavax’s earnings outlook is showing strong signs of even more stellar and stronger performance than that of Moderna this year.
So far, earnings per share for Novavax this year is estimated at $21 while Moderna’s is $10.
Another possible game-changer for Novavax is its plan to combine a flu-coronavirus vaccine to be marketed post-pandemic.
Before making any moves though, it’s important to invest in Novavax with all the facts out in the open.
Inasmuch as it’s a promising stock, this is still a risky investment. This means that only aggressive investors should consider buying this biotechnology stock.
In a number of ways, Novavax and Bitcoin share some similarities.
Both are speculative assets that could either skyrocket or sink. They’re extremely attractive to aggressive investors on the lookout for big wins but also unafraid of massive risks.
The main difference is that with Novavax, it’s simpler to understand the reason for its rise or fall.
The potential drivers for its success or failure appear to be less cryptic than those behind the cryptocurrency.
They say there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, but what a very long tunnel we’re in right now.
More contagious strains of the SARS-CoV-2 have been discovered in the UK and South Africa, with these new variants threatening to make the situation worse before we even get the chance to try to make things better.
However, there’s still hope.
Just take another look at the leading vaccines developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and you’ll realize that we could be nearing the light at the end of this dark road.
In fact, the innovative solutions that emerged in 2020 could serve as beacons of light to illuminate the darker paths that the biotechnology and healthcare sector has been struggling with for decades.
The more we study the effects of the new vaccines, the more it becomes plausible that they could not only be used as weapons to fight off the 2020’s ultimate grim reaper, COVID-19, but also annihilate grimmer reapers like cancer.
Among the vaccine developers that launched their COVID-19 program, the technology used by Moderna (MRNA), Pfizer (PFE) – BioNTech (BNTX), and CureVac NV (CVAC) proved to be the most groundbreaking.
All these utilized the nucleic acids, more commonly known as RNA or mRNA, to create their COVID-19 vaccines.
Traditional vaccines are typically injected into the body to trigger an immune response, which would, later on, be useful in fighting off the live pathogen. The problem with this is that it requires so much time and exposes the vaccines to contamination.
In comparison, mRNA vaccines do not suffer from these setbacks. Basically, these vaccines instruct the body to replicate parts of the virus.
In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the mRNA vaccines tell our bodies to replicate the proteins wrapped around the virus. This way, the body gets to practice on the replicated proteins and prepare for the day when the actual virus shows up in the system.
By familiarizing the body with the genetic makeup of the deadly virus, the mRNA vaccines help us perfect the immune response for when the real thing attacks us—and therein lies the much bigger promise of this technology.
mRNA has the capacity to instruct our cells to create whatever protein necessary, which means it can be applied to fight off other diseases apart from COVID-19.
Researchers since the 1970s have been attempting to shed light on this technique but failed to get traction.
Due to the urgency caused by the pandemic, companies like BioNTech and Moderna have been given practically carte blanche of the funds to finally develop the mRNA vaccines and show the world not only how potent it could be but how quickly we can have it ready compared to more traditional processes.
Now, the technology is gaining more attention because it could finally be the cure to a myriad of diseases including cancer.
These days, we treat malignant tumors by zapping them with radiation or via chemicals. These methods tend to damage lots of surrounding tissues in the process.
Moderna and BioNTech have come up with a better idea.
Instead of blindly zapping in one general direction, they believe that each should be treated as a genetically unique tumor. Therefore, it would be more effective and less damaging to the patients if their immune systems are accurately programmed to attack specific enemies.
This is where mRNA comes in.
Once the antigen is identified, the scientists can determine its unique makeup or fingerprint.
Then, they can reverse engineer its entire cellular instructions to be able to come up with the blueprint that can help them develop an accurate plan on how to target the culprit.
Similar to how Moderna and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines work, the body will then be conditioned to do the rest.
What’s more exciting is that these plans are no longer just ideas.
Both Moderna and BioNTech have been filling their pipelines with drug trials for cancer treatments of the skin, lung, breast, pancreas, prostate, and brain. They’ve been working on mRNA-based vaccines for a wide range of diseases as well including Zika, rabies, and even influenza.
The success of Moderna and BioNTech’s COVID-19 programs accomplished more than just giving the companies a marketable product. It turbo-charged decades-long processes.
Remember, it only took 11 months since the discovery of the SARS-CoV-2 virus for the UK and US regulators to declare that the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 is not only safely tolerated by people but also effective.
Prior to this, no vaccine had been developed in less than four years. The approval period takes even longer.
That is, COVID-19 inadvertently led to the grand debut and definitive proof of concept of this much-awaited technology.
If you missed out on Moderna or BioNTech’s rally in 2020, buying on the dip is definitely a smart move now.
Eighteen months ago, an unknown vaccine developer called Novavax (NVAX) confronted an existential terror: getting delisted by the NASDAQ stock index.
This threat came on the heels of the company’s second failed vaccine study in less than three years, plunging Novavax shares to less than $1 for 30 straight days and triggering a warning from NASDAQ.
Desperate to keep the company going, Novavax sold two of its manufacturing plants in Maryland, cutting the payroll by over 100 employees.
By January 2020, Novavax only had 166 employees in its roster and was priced at $4 per share.
By December of the same year, Novavax more than tripled its workforce and the stock has risen to $128 per share.
What a difference a year—and a global pandemic—could make.
To date, Novavax stock has already skyrocketed to over 3,000%—shattering even the wildest dreams of its early investors. And this isn’t the best news yet.
Like Moderna (MRNA), another small biotechnology that skyrocketed this year, Novavax is projected to enjoy more room for growth in the succeeding years.
Despite the similarities in their achievements, there has been a notably sizable gap between the valuations of these two biotechnology companies in the Operation Warp Speed list.
The valuation gap would probably make more sense now, especially since Moderna has the golden ticket when it comes to high efficacy results for the COVID-19 vaccine, while Novavax has yet to prove its candidate’s worth.
However, Novavax isn’t out of the race just yet. Novavax plans to end 2020 with a bang by launching pivotal COVID-19 vaccine trials for its candidate, NVX-CoV2373, in the US and Mexico.
While the old saying, “The early bird gets worm,” is frequently accurate and we’ve seen how first-movers generally attain the highest success, this may not be the case here.
In view of the COVID-19 vaccine race, there’s a realistic possibility that Novavax will come out as a bigger winner than Pfizer (PFE) or Moderna (MRNA) in the long run.
Admittedly, it’s encouraging for vaccine developers to know that RNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and BioNTech’s (BNTX) BNT162b2 and Moderna’s mRNA-1273, are effective.
It’s definitely even more encouraging to learn that the second type of vaccine, which is being developed by AstraZeneca (AZN) and Oxford, also offer successful trials.
However, the potential of Novavax’s vaccine candidate proves that there are many ways to skin the cat.
This protein-based vaccine, which also caught the attention of Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, is expected to show the best results among all the developers.
Although its competitors are months ahead in their tests, NVX-CoV2373 actually outshone the rest of the developers on key metrics in the monkey and even human tests.
Moreover, Novavax’s technology offers versatility, which means it can be applied to other vaccines and treatments as well.
If NVX-CoV2373 gains approval, the company will easily continue this momentum in 2021 and in the next years.
The market opportunity presented by the demand for a COVID-19 vaccine is unbelievable.
Priced at $16 per dose, Operation Warp Speed shelled out $1.6 billion to buy 100 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.
Considering that this is a two-shot vaccine, this would only cover 50 million people.
Although the price may be higher or lower depending on various factors, $16 per dose is a good starting point for a back-of-the-envelope calculation.
What we know so far is that Novavax has already secured agreements to manufacture more than 2 billion doses.
Taking into consideration the price point of $16 for each dose, that easily gives the company a potential revenue of a whopping $32 billion in 2021.
The upside is surreal.
Plus, we still have no guarantee whether the need for a COVID-19 vaccine will be a one-time requirement or a yearly ritual like flu shots, which Novavax also has covered with the production of its new drug, Nanoflu.
As the market continues to swoon over the huge updates from Pfizer and Moderna, it no longer comes as a surprise when other candidates are glossed over.
Novavax isn’t about to start selling its COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow, but it’ll probably release critical data in the next months.
Assuming that it gets regulatory approval by the first half of 2021, it’ll begin to realize the upside almost instantaneously.
At $8 billion market capitalization, Novavax stock could easily triple to $24 billion by the time the vaccine is released.
I believe Novavax offers a potential long, and I find myself getting bullish on this stock.
Although it has a limited pipeline at the moment, I think positive data from its COVID-19 vaccine candidate will serve as a catalyst for this stock to trade much higher in the future.
While I can see that Novavax is widely considered as a dark horse in this race, I believe it’s going to be a dark horse that can lead us out of this darkness soon.
The COVID-19 race is entering the home stretch, and it could only be a matter weeks before the world finds out which among the leading vaccine candidates will work.
For months, Moderna (MRNA) has been dubbed as the leader of the pack, with the company’s shares reaping the rewards thanks to this year’s wild growth and promising clinical results.
Now, it looks like Moderna is on the verge of officially claiming the crown as promising reports surfaced from its late-stage clinical trials.
If the Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, called mRNA-1273, is proven to be at least 70% effective, the company will immediately ask for an emergency authorization to use it on high-risk patients.
Like Pfizer (PFE), Moderna is also expecting results to come as early as October. With potential delays in the trials, the company thinks the data would be released by November at the latest.
Moderna is also looking into building footprints outside the United States.
Part of its efforts to expand its potential market reach for mRNA-1273, Moderna opened a commercial hub – its first ever – in Switzerland, where it has already been collaborating with Swiss drug manufacturer Lonza (SWX: LONN).
This is a good move for Moderna.
After all, Europe presents a substantial market for the COVID-19 vaccine. For context, the European Union has over 446 million people while the US only has 328 million.
To date, Moderna has agreed to supply 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the US government for up to $1.525 billion. The contract also provides for an optional additional 400 million doses, depending on mRNA-1273’s performance in the trials.
Meanwhile, Moderna already secured a deal with the Swiss federal government to deliver 4.5 million of mRNA-1273.
While it has yet to announce a similar deal with the rest of the EU, the company is reported to be in the advanced stages of its negotiations with other member countries, where it is estimated to provide an additional 160 million doses.
Overall, the global manufacturing projection for Moderna falls somewhere between 500 million and 1 billion doses starting in 2021.
Looking at the agreements, we can conservatively say that mRNA-1273 could rake in $12.4 billion in sales for Moderna by 2022.
Despite the current payment plans implying that each dose of Moderna’s vaccine would only cost $15.25, the company already received government funding of roughly $2.5 billion.
Taking those expenses into account, the actual value would be somewhere between $25 and $30 per dose.
In comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine candidate with BioNTech (BNTX) is estimated to cost less than $19.50 per dose while Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) announced that it will offer its vaccine at $10 per dose.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s (AZN) candidate with Oxford University is expected to be even cheaper at $2.96 to $4 per dose.
With its COVID-19 vaccine rivals offering decidedly cheaper options, Moderna will need to leverage its first-mover advantage if it hopes to fight for a decent market share.
Outside COVID-19 vaccine efforts, Moderna has a rich pipeline, with 23 candidates distributed over 22 programs and 6 modalities.
Aside from the urgent need to offer a vaccine to the world, there is another reason why Moderna is focusing on the COVID-19 program right now.
If proven successful, the program can be used to validate another experimental vaccine, called mRNA-1647, which targets congenital cytomegalovirus infection.
Although CMV is identified as one of the leading causes of birth defects in the US, there remains no approved vaccine for it.
However, there is a catch.
Moderna will not be able to reap the full benefits of the CMV vaccine.
In fact, it will only be able to receive 50% of its profits if it becomes successful since mRNA-4157 is being developed alongside Merck (MRK).
The idea is for the drug to boost the oncology sector of Merck, with the goal of finding another blockbuster like the melanoma drug Keytruda.
As impressive as the CMV vaccine is as a product to launch in the market, there is a huge possibility that Moderna would not necessarily benefit from a large windfall because of it.
Aside from Merck, Moderna is also working with another biopharmaceutical giant and competitor in the COVID-19 vaccine race: Vertex (VRTX).
Moderna and the Massachusetts-based giant are collaborating to develop a treatment for cystic fibrosis, a niche that Vertex has dominated for years.
This is actually their second collaboration, but this project seems a tad more ambitious than the earlier one: Moderna and Vertex are working to develop a one-time treatment for cystic fibrosis using mRNA technology.
Basically, the two companies want to use gene-editing techniques to modify a patient’s DNA and correct the cells that cause cystic fibrosis.
The collaboration will span 3 years, with Vertex paying Moderna $75 million upfront. The smaller biotechnology company is also eligible for an additional $380 million in milestone payments plus royalties.
Notably, this is not the first cystic fibrosis treatment collaboration that Vertex formed with gene-editing companies.
Earlier this year, the company also secured a license option with CRISPR Therapeutics (CRSP) to work on practically the same thing.
Clearly, Vertex is hedging its bets on two potential options with this second partnership with Moderna.
Thanks to its trailblazing COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Moderna has become one of the most sought-after stocks of 2020, with its year-to-date growth reaching a stunning 360% last July.
Despite the temptation to bet big on Moderna stocks, bear in mind that early leaders like this biotechnology company will be facing incredible pressure from pharmaceutical titans like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca – all of which have the capacity to meet the manufacturing and distribution demands across the globe.
At best, a company with Moderna’s size would probably receive a slice of the market in the early days.
At worst, it might struggle to keep a foothold as stronger and larger competitors flood the market with cheaper but equally effective alternatives.
Nonetheless, this is not to say that you should completely avoid smaller biotechnology companies just because they are too small to compete with the larger fish.
Rather, I think it would simply be prudent to invest based on each player’s proven ability and outlined plans to meet the demand at a mass scale.
Doing so would guarantee that you not only limit your risks but also allow you to reap the rewards of successful vaccine deployment. If you play your cards right, then you might even get a handful of different COVID-19 vaccine winners in your back pocket.
Credit where credit is due.
Tiny Moderna Inc (MRNA) has been at the forefront ever since this pandemic broke, with its vaccine program growing in leaps and bounds compared to competitors, like Novavax (NVAX), which has $3.02 billion in market capitalization, and Inovio (INO), which has $2.20 billion.
The latest report on Moderna’s progress pushes it much further ahead of its competitors.
Looking at its timeline, Moderna could have efficacy data on its COVID-19 vaccine, called mRNA-1273, by Thanksgiving.
Moderna’s vaccine, which is similar to the work of Pfizer’s German collaborator BioNTech (BNTX), utilizes a novel approach that inserts small doses of genetic instructions into the cells of humans.
These then trigger the production of harmless proteins, which mimic the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The proteins subsequently alert the body to produce antibodies, making the vaccine a proactive measure that protects people from infection by the actual virus.
Right now, Moderna is in the second stage of the trials. The final stage involving 30,000 people is expected to begin in July.
With the vaccine program well underway, Moderna secured manufacturing capabilities through a strategic collaboration with Swiss biotechnology company Lonza (LZAGF).
This partnership with a manufacturing site ensures that Moderna is on track to deliver approximately 500 million doses of the mRNA-1273 vaccine every year and could handle up to 1 billion doses annually starting from 2021.
With such massive competitors like Pfizer (PFE) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) but also other healthcare heavyweights, such as Regeneron (REGN), AstraZeneca (AZN), Eli Lilly (LLY), and Merck (MRK), the best-case scenario for Moderna is to launch its COVID-19 vaccine before its peers.
Considering the progress it has made so far and the 208% jump in Moderna’s shares this year, it looks like investors anticipate that the company can win the COVID-19 vaccine race and capitalize on its future cash-making machine.
After all, no other biotechnology stock has taken more advantage of this health crisis than Moderna. The company exploded from having the biggest IPO in biotechnology history to now being celebrated as the COVID-19 vaccine leader.
Moderna grew from being a biotechnology company worth roughly $4 billion to $5 billion to an impressive $25 billion frontrunner in a few months’ time.
This is especially impressive since Moderna commanded this kind of valuation without having any approved product in the market. In fact, this clinical stage biotechnology company is valued more than several companies with marketed treatments.
While it has no product in the market today, Moderna actually has a robust pipeline that boasts 22 mRNA candidates, with 12 of these already in clinical studies. The lineup includes potential vaccines for the Zika virus along with a promising oncology pipeline.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moderna’s lead candidate was its cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine called mRNA-1647. CMV, which affects almost 80% of adults in the US alone, is caused by a virus related to those that cause chickenpox and mononucleosis.
Moderna expects the Phase 2 study analysis for mRNA-1647 to be completed by the third quarter of 2020, with Phase 3 set to start by early 2021.
The company is also working with fellow biotechnology companies on potential cancer vaccines.
So far, Moderna has been focusing on two candidates which are also currently undergoing Phase 2 testing.
The first candidate is called mRNA-4157, which is a personalized cancer vaccine developed for melanoma patients.
Moderna is evaluating the combination of this vaccine with Merck’s top-selling cancer treatment Keytruda. This could turn out to be a potent combination considering Keytruda’s track record.
The second candidate is a collaboration with AstraZeneca. The latter licensed the rights to one of Moderna’s heart disease drug candidate called AZD8601. If successful, this drug will be marketed to patients in need of coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery.
Riding the momentum of its COVID-19 vaccine program, Moderna conducted a secondary stock offering last May. With $1.34 billion in gross proceeds from that sale alone, the company ensured that it’s well-capitalized to fund its development programs.
While its $25 billion market capitalization is pennies compared to fellow COVID-19 vaccine leaders JNJ and Pfizer, the smaller biotechnology company is definitely giving these behemoths a run for their money.
Pfizer (PFE) has been widely recognized as one of the leading and largest vaccine makers in the industry.
Now, one of America’s biggest biotechnology companies will throw its weight behind German firm BioNTech (BNTX) in its quest to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Prior to this announcement, BioNTech has already been working inside China in collaboration with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma (SHA: 600196).
Its partnership with Pfizer will entail efforts outside China and will be in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Specifically, the work will be done at sites in the US and Germany.
What we know so far about this experimental COVID vaccine is that it’s called BNT162.
Like the experimental vaccine from Moderna (MRNA), BioNTech’s version is also based on messenger RNA. Clinical trials will start by April.
BioNTech shares were up 55% following the announcement of this collaboration with Pfizer. Meanwhile, the giant biotechnology company’s shares jumped by 3.8%.
Before this coronavirus vaccine collaboration, BioNTech and Pfizer were already partners.
In 2018, the two companies agreed to work together in developing flu vaccines based on mRNA.
However, this recent expansion of their partnership gained more attention because of the intense focus on the efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.
The output of this partnership won’t be kept within the confines of the companies though.
According to Pfizer, any information or tool it comes up with will be shared with the entire scientific community.
The company also pledged its assistance to small biotechnology companies working on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, going as far as offering its manufacturing power to help speed up the process.
Aside from its coronavirus efforts, the giant biotech has been working on plans to bolster its revenue streams.
Addressing the loss of exclusivity for seizure disorder drug Lyrica, an issue that weighed on the company’s top and bottom lines last year, Pfizer has been gearing up to merge the Upjohn unit with Mylan (MYL).
The merged companies will be called Viatris.
This is a good strategy. Since Upjohn is home to Lyrica and several older drugs nearing the end of their patent exclusivity, separating this unit will allow Pfizer to streamline its portfolio.
Instead of holding on to Lyrica as an anchor, the “new” Pfizer will focus on its new line of blockbuster drugs like breast cancer medication Ibrance and blood clot treatment Eliquis.
Apart from these, Pfizer is investing more on marketing its rising stars like Vyndaquel. The company’s pipeline is also filled with potential blockbusters particularly its 20-valent pneumococcal vaccine.
Although the Upjohn-Mylan merger will inevitably lower Pfizer’s dividend, shareholders of the giant biotech will still own part of Viatris. That means they would have a share in the dividend of the merged companies as well.
The combination of the dividends from both Pfizer and Viatris would total to roughly the same amount as the “old” Pfizer, which currently yields 5%.
What we’re experiencing right now is definitely unprecedented. COVID-19 has mutated from a respiratory disease affecting a single province in China into a global threat endangering everyone’s physical and financial well-being.
However, there’s always good news.
From an objective perspective, this coronavirus crisis has provided a rare opportunity for investors. After all, stock market corrections are actually quite common occurrences.
Looking at each correction in equities in the past, you can see that these were eventually triggered by a bull-market rally.
Remember, the ongoing vaccine research conducted by companies worldwide will yield results sooner or later. So even if COVID-19 is here to stay, it will no longer be a deadly threat in the long run.
In times like these, I think it’s more prudent to consider major biotechnology stocks when looking to invest.
This is because they have a higher capacity to keep trucking through this health crisis and to deal with its aftermath.
Despite the growing fear that this pandemic will lead us to a recession, Pfizer can still be easily categorized as a profitable company.
Considering that it’s trading at merely 13 times its expected earnings, this stock is quite a bargain.
Pfizer has a strong cash flow. Its long history shows that it has also weathered economic storms.
More importantly, it has a product pipeline that we find essential regardless of pandemics and strict quarantines. It doesn’t hurt that they’re priced attractively as well.
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