What happened

Shares of BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:BCRX) were jumping 15.4% higher as of 3:21 p.m. EST on Monday. Today's big gain, like BioCryst's major move last week, stemmed from rising fears about the spread of the coronavirus that first appeared in China but has now infected several people in the U.S.

So what

The logic behind the spikes for BioCryst and several other biotech stocks is that these companies could have significant opportunities if they're successful in developing vaccines for the worrisome coronavirus strain. With reports over the weekend that more people in the U.S. and in other countries have been infected by the virus, drugmakers are scrambling to speed up their development of antiviral drugs and vaccines.

Healthcare professional holding a syringe

Image source: Getty Images.

BioCryst already has one drug being evaluated in clinical testing that could be promising. Galidesivir is in a phase 1 clinical study for treating several types of viruses, including the coronavirus. 

But there's a lot of work to be done before any drug or vaccine can be proven to be both effective and safe in treating the coronavirus strain that has raised concerns across the world. And there's no guarantee that BioCryst will be the leader in the race.

Now what

Investors will want to closely monitor the progress that BioCryst and other companies make with their programs targeting the coronavirus. Keep in mind, though, that the current fears could fade away if the spread of the virus slows and there are relatively few deaths. In the meantime, the biggest thing to watch with BioCryst is the pending FDA approval decision for the biotech's lead candidate berotralstat in preventing attacks of hereditary angioedema (HAE).

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.