President Trump hasn't exactly been a fan of big pharma companies in the past. His tweets about drug prices have raised worries among drugmakers and contributed to the volatility in pharmaceutical stocks over the last few years. But the White House isn't bashing big pharma companies now. It wants their help.
Last week, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with the leaders of seven big drugmakers about the threat presented by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Which companies earned a spot at the table in the meeting at the White House and which of them are most likely to win in the battle against COVID-19?
Who's who in the coronavirus battle
CEOs from the following seven biopharmaceutical companies met with President Trump on March 2: Gilead Sciences (GILD 1.06%), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK 0.14%), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 0.87%), Moderna (MRNA -3.00%), Pfizer (PFE 0.76%), Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN 1.69%), and Sanofi (SNY 2.03%). Each of these seven companies is working on developing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 or vaccines to prevent the disease.
A World Health Organization official stated in February that Gilead's experimental antiviral drug remdesivir appears to be the most promising candidate for treating COVID-19 right now. Gilead is currently evaluating the drug in late-stage studies.
Regeneron is collaborating with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a treatment for COVID-19. The company has worked with HHS in the past on treatments for Ebola and MERS.
Johnson & Johnson is also working with HHS to identify antiviral candidates that could potentially be effective in treating COVID-19. The healthcare giant is scrambling to develop a novel coronavirus vaccine as well.
All of the other drugmakers are working on experimental vaccines for the novel coronavirus. GlaxoSmithKline is partnering with Chinese biotech Clover Biopharmaceuticals on developing a vaccine. Sanofi is seeking to repurpose its experimental SARS vaccine to target the novel coronavirus. Pfizer hasn't fully jumped into the fray yet, but the big pharma company is considering working with its partner BioNTech to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Moderna is the smallest of the seven companies. However, it ranks among the leaders in developing a COVID-19 vaccine and plans to begin testing an experimental vaccine in humans this month.
There are also other drugmakers working on coronavirus programs that weren't invited to the White House. For example, Inovio and Novavax are developing experimental COVID-19 vaccines. Both companies, though, are significantly smaller than any of the seven companies whose CEOs met with President Trump.
President Trump urged the big drugmakers to work together in close collaboration so that a vaccine and therapeutic treatment could be available as quickly as possible. The CEOs stated in the meeting that they were willing to collaborate on COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development. Vice President Mike Pence expressed thanks at the end of the meeting that the companies "have already formed a consortia" to target the novel coronavirus disease.
It's not clear yet, though, exactly how the companies plan to work together. No details of any industry alliance have been revealed.
The president also pushed the companies' CEOs to provide timelines on when a vaccine might be available. He said that he had heard from some of the executives that a vaccine could be developed within as quickly as three or four months to up to a year.
However, that timeframe is probably overly optimistic. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attempted to set a more realistic expectation and stated that a vaccine probably won't be deployed until "at the earliest a year to a year and a half."
Most likely winners
At this point, Gilead and Moderna stand out as the two most likely winners from the White House meeting in the race to develop COVID-19 therapies. Gilead is ahead of Regeneron in testing an antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Moderna is advancing to clinical testing of an experimental vaccine more quickly than others.
But investors shouldn't weigh these pharmaceutical stocks solely on the basis of their coronavirus programs. There's a bigger story to consider for each of the stocks.