Late comedian Rodney Dangerfield was known for his "I don't get no respect" catchphrase. It's possible that vaccines are the equivalent of Dangerfield in the pharmaceutical world. For example, you don't hear a lot about them compared to cancer immunotherapies. But worldwide sales of vaccines totaled $27.7 billion last year -- enough money to warrant plenty of respect.

There's also some exciting progress being made in developing new vaccines. Market research firm EvaluatePharma ranked the top vaccines in development based on projected sales in 2024. Four biopharmaceutical companies landed pipeline candidates on the list: Emergent BioSolutions (EBS -0.84%), Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -5.54%), Merck (MRK -2.63%), and Novavax (NVAX 0.10%). Here are the top vaccines in development and how each of these stocks stands to profit from them. 

Gloved hands holding syringe and vaccine bottle

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Combination respiratory vaccine

The most promising vaccine of all is Novavax's combination influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine. EvaluatePharma projects that this vaccine will generate sales of $1.82 billion in 2024. If this sales target is met, Novavax will claim the No. 5 top-selling vaccine the world.

There's one detail that is important to note, however: This vaccine is only in preclinical development. Fewer than one out of six vaccines that begin phase 1 clinical testing ultimately win regulatory approval -- and Novavax's combination respiratory vaccine hasn't even begun phase 1 testing.

2. NuThrax anthrax vaccine

Emergent BioSolutions' NuThrax anthrax vaccine could make the biotech more than $1.1 billion in 2024 if EvaluatePharma's projections are accurate. The company plans to begin enrolling patients in a phase 3 clinical study of the vaccine next year.

NuThrax is a combination of Emergent's anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, with CPG 7909, which enhances the body's immune response. BioThrax is currently the only anthrax vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Emergent reported BioThrax sales of $286.7 million in 2017. 

3. V114 pneumococcal vaccine

Merck is the only big pharma company with an experimental vaccine on EvaluatePharma's list. The drugmaker's V114 pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is projected to generate sales of $774 million in 2024.

V114 is being evaluated in two phase 3 clinical studies. If these studies go well, Merck could be in a position to take market share away from Pfizer's Prevnar 13, which is currently the best-selling vaccine in the world. However, Pfizer is also beginning phase 3 testing of its own next-generation pneumococcal vaccine.

4. ResVax RSV vaccine

Another Novavax vaccine also ranked in EvaluatePharma's top five -- the ResVax RSV vaccine. EvaluatePharma thinks this vaccine could make $668 million in 2024.

The good news for Novavax is that, unlike the company's combination respiratory vaccine, its ResVax vaccine is far along the development path. Novavax recently announced that it achieved a key milestone in enrollment for a phase 3 study evaluating ResVax in protecting infants from RSV via maternal immunization. The company could file for regulatory approval in early 2020 if the study is successful. 

5. VGX-3100 human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

Inovio's VGX-3100 vaccine for treating cervical dysplasia caused by HPV rounds out the list of top vaccines in development. VGX-3100 could generate sales of $622 million in 2024 if approved.

After a delayed start to its phase 3 clinical study of VGX-3100 due to an FDA clinical hold in 2016, everything now appears to be on track. Inovio reported last week that phase 3 enrollment is on schedule with 70 sites in 16 countries enrolling patients.

The biggest winners

Several of these stocks are likely to produce huge returns for investors as a result of vaccines in development. But not all of them.

Scratch Merck from the list. While its V114 pneumococcal vaccine could very well be a huge success, the revenue from the vaccine will only amount to a drop in the bucket for Merck. The big story for the drugmaker will continue to be cancer drug Keytruda.

Emergent BioSolutions should enjoy strong growth if there aren't any bumps in the road for NuThrax. I don't expect there to be any. Although there are a handful of other companies that are developing anthrax vaccines, Emergen should retain its lead in the market. The company should also benefit from its recently announced acquisition of specialty vaccine maker PaxVax.

Inovio doesn't have any approved products on the market. The biotech's market cap is currently only a little over $400 million. Success for VGX-3100 would be a game changer for Inovio. 

Perhaps the biggest potential winner of all from EvaluatePharma's list, though, is Novavax. Approval for ResVax would be just as significant for the company as approval for VGX-3100 would be for Inovio. Novavax also has a promising experimental vaccine that didn't make the top five ranking -- influenza vaccine NanoFlu.

The company's encouraging results from both NanoFlu and ResVax give Novavax confidence that it can ultimately deliver on the promise for its combined respiratory vaccine. If it can, Novavax will be like Rodney Dangerfield in a different way, laughing all the way to the bank.