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This Under-the-Radar Stock Is the Biggest Winner From the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Keith Speights - Feb 28, 2020 at 6:03AM

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Hint: It's not Inovio, Moderna, or Novavax.

Not every stock is plunging because of worries about the impact of the coronavirus. Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.71%), for example, is up by a double-digit percentage. The big biotech announced this week that it's moving forward with late-stage clinical studies for its antiviral drug targeting treatment of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

Several smaller biotech stocks have also performed very well recently. Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -2.86%), Moderna (MRNA -4.59%), and Novavax (NVAX -5.12%) are scrambling to test their experimental coronavirus vaccines. Intense investor interest in these companies' clinical efforts has created buying pressure for all three stocks.

But the biggest winner from the coronavirus outbreak is a stock that most investors have never even heard of. Its shares have skyrocketed more than 1,600% so far in 2020. This under-the-radar stock with white-hot momentum is Co-Diagnostics (CODX -1.46%).

Gloved hand holding a vial of blood with a label that has Coronavirus printed on it

Image source: Getty Images.

Picks and shovels

Back in the gold-rush days, people flocked to the areas where gold was being mined in hopes of making their fortunes. Some of them became rich, but most didn't. But there was another group of people who consistently made big profits from the gold rush -- the folks who sold picks and shovels to the gold miners.

You can think of Gilead Sciences, Inovio, Moderna, Novavax, and other drugmakers as kind of the gold miners of the coronavirus rush. The first company to develop a safe and effective drug or vaccine for the virus is likely to make a sizable amount of money. However, the laggards might not see much of a return from their investments into coronavirus programs. The bubbles for several of the small biotech stocks could pop.

But Co-Diagnostics is sort of a pick-and-shovel play with the coronavirus outbreak. The Utah-based company specializes in molecular diagnostics tests that detect and analyze DNA and RNA.

When the coronavirus started making headlines, Co-Diagnostics hurried to use its technology to develop a test that could detect the new strain of virus. Believe it or not, the company's researchers were able to design such a test and finish initial verification in just a little over a week.

A quick launch

Co-Diagnostics launched its CoPrimer coronavirus diagnostic test on Feb. 6, 2020 -- only weeks after the company first began development. The test is available for use by labs, hospitals, and other organizations.

Obviously, other tests already existed since the SARS-CoV-2 (formerly known as 2019-nCoV) coronavirus was being diagnosed in patients prior to Co-Diagnostics' test becoming available. However, the company thinks that its test provides greater accuracy and specificity in detecting the virus.

Co-Diagnostics says that customers across the world are lining up to buy its coronavirus tests. For now, the test is available for research use only. However, the company is talking with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about obtaining clearance for the test on an emergency-use basis. If the FDA grants this clearance, Co-Diagnostics would be able to market its test as an in vitro diagnostics device (IVD), which would expand its commercial market.

The company announced on Thursday that it obtained a CE marking for its coronavirus test for the European Union. This certification is used to show that a product meets health, environmental, and safety standards established by the EU. 

Is the stock a buy?

Most investors are probably better off staying on the sidelines with Co-Diagnostics. The company's market cap has soared to more than $350 million without knowing yet just how much it's making from its coronavirus tests. In its most recent quarter (prior to the launch of its coronavirus test), Co-Diagnostics generated revenue of only $41,434 and posted a loss of $1.75 million.

It's possible that the current alarm over the coronavirus outbreak could subside in the near future. If that happens, Co-Diagnostics could give up much of its initial gains. Of course, it would be a different story if the virus becomes a true pandemic and causes huge numbers of deaths.

The bottom line for now is that there's too much uncertainty to know what will happen next for Co-Diagnostics and the coronavirus threat. Pick-and-shovel providers made the most money during the gold rushes in the past, but those gold rushes didn't last very long. That could happen with the coronavirus rush, too.

Keith Speights owns shares of Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Co-Diagnostics, Inc. Stock Quote
Co-Diagnostics, Inc.
CODX
$4.05 (-1.46%) $0.06
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
GILD
$65.86 (-0.71%) $0.47
Novavax, Inc. Stock Quote
Novavax, Inc.
NVAX
$40.68 (-5.12%) $-2.20
Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Stock Quote
Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
INO
$2.63 (-2.86%) $0.08
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
MRNA
$160.25 (-4.59%) $-7.71

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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