You might think it's crazy to even remotely suggest that one company could singlehandedly thwart the onset of a global economic recession. But make no mistake -- that's exactly what I'm doing.
I think the odds are pretty high right now that a recession could be on the way. The coronavirus outbreak that started in China has now spread to many countries around the world. It's already making a significant financial impact. There's a real chance that the epidemic could become a true pandemic and trigger a global recession.
Multiple companies are racing to develop drugs or vaccines that could contain the spread of the current coronavirus strain and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. None, though, is in as strong of a position to succeed as Gilead Sciences (GILD 0.47%) is. And as crazy as it might sound, Gilead just might prevent a global recession.
Going viral in a worrisome way
The first assumption with my premise is that the coronavirus could actually spark a global recession. Don't take my word for it, though. Consider an analysis performed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in 2005 and 2006.
Fifteen years ago, it wasn't the current strain of coronavirus that was worrying governments and investors. Instead, it was the avian flu. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader at the time, requested that the CBO conduct a study to evaluate the possible macroeconomic impact of an avian flu pandemic.
The CBO determined that a severe avian flu pandemic could cause U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) to fall by around 4.25%. That's more than enough to throw the U.S. into an economic recession. As the U.S. goes, so goes the rest of the world.
Keep in mind that at the beginning of 2006, there had been 142 cases worldwide of avian flu with 74 deaths. So far, there have been over 80,000 cases of the coronavirus across the world with more than 2,700 deaths. It stands to reason that the CBO's analysis related to the avian flu is applicable for the coronavirus -- and the negative economic impact could be even worse.
Major companies are already feeling the effects of the viral outbreak. Apple stated last week that it will miss its revenue guidance for the first quarter of 2020 because of the coronavirus. Mastercard reduced its Q1 revenue guidance as a result of the impact that the coronavirus is having on travel. Dun & Bradstreet estimates that at least 51,000 companies across the world will be negatively affected by the virus, including 163 members of the Fortune 1000.
Only one drug in the lead
All of this negativity could be a moot point if a safe and effective treatment or vaccine for the virus becomes available. That's where Gilead Sciences enters the picture.
Gilead originally developed experimental antiviral drug remdesivir to treat the Ebola virus. While the drug wasn't as effective as hoped with treating Ebola, it showed promise in preclinical testing in treating two other viruses -- MERS and SARS. Both MERS and SARS are members of the coronavirus family and are similar in structure to the 2019-nCoV strain of coronavirus that's causing concerns now.
Over the past four weeks, Gilead has initiated two clinical studies in China evaluating patients with COVID-19. It began a U.S. clinical study earlier this week. The biotech is also working with government and non-government organizations to supply remdesivir to COVID-19 patients as an emergency treatment.
Other drugmakers are also scrambling to test experimental drugs and vaccines. They range from big pharma companies including AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson to small biotechs such as Inovio, Moderna, and Novavax.
But there's one clear leader at this point -- Gilead. World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general Bruce Aylward stated in a press conference earlier this week that "there is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir."
Gilead expects to report results from its clinical studies of remdesivir in April. If those results are positive, expect countries across the world to want the antiviral drug even before any regulatory approvals are granted. Gilead has already ramped up its production efforts and is keeping governments updated on its progress.
A hero's reward?
It's quite possible that the global economy could hinge on how the clinical studies for remdesivir turn out. Overwhelmingly positive results could enable governments and investors to breathe a huge collective sigh of relief if the drug demonstrates the potential to effectively treat COVID-19 and contain the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Gilead Sciences could end up being a hero to the rescue. But while the biotech stock has jumped on the news of its progress with remdesivir, Gilead might not enjoy as big of a hero's reward as you might think.
Bank of America analyst Geoff Meacham projects that Gilead would likely generate at most $2.5 billion in revenue from its antiviral drug. That's a lot of money, but it represents only around 11% of Gilead's current total revenue and would only give the company a temporary boost.
Gilead just might prevent a global recession. For investors, though, the biotech's HIV franchise and promising immunology drug filgotinib that could win FDA approval later this year are better reasons to consider buying the stock than its coronavirus drug is.