As more biotech companies enter the mad race to get the first coronavirus vaccine from the testing lab to the market, Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) has placed itself at the front of the pack, with its most recent announcement that phase 2 trials for the company's vaccine candidate are imminent. On April 2, Moderna announced that the inaugural human trials for its coronavirus vaccine could move to phase 2 as soon as the end of spring or beginning of summer. Investors reacted accordingly, sending shares up by roughly 14% when the market closed that week from where they had started at the beginning of the week.
There's steep competition for investor dollars from companies like Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO), which just started human trials of its coronavirus vaccine last week, and Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD), which has already entered late-stage trials of its coronavirus drug candidate remdesivir in China. So you're not alone if you're unsure where you should be investing your hard-earned money in these uncertain times.
There are very few companies that have managed to ride out the sharp highs and lows of the coronavirus market thus far without experiencing significant losses, but Moderna is certainly one of them. Up by more than 60% since the beginning of 2020, Moderna shares have remained fairly buoyant, and the potential of a distributable vaccine looming in the offing has made this stock an increasingly attractive buy.
Phase 2 trials could begin before spring is out
Moderna's vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, first began to garner attention in January when the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its plan to partner with the company in an early phase study of the prospective treatment. In early February, the first vials of the vaccine candidate were transferred from manufacturing to enter phase 1 testing.
By the middle of March, phase 1 trials had commenced with human test subjects in Washington State. At the daily coronavirus task force press briefing on April 1, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, applauded the lightning-fast phase 1 launch and expressed his confidence that phase 2 was just a few months away.
In a timeline of its rapid response to the novel coronavirus and development of the vaccine candidate, Moderna stated:
Our mRNA platform provides significant advantages in speed and efficiency, across basic science, manufacturing, and clinical development. ...
For mRNA-1273, we were able to leverage our experience in vaccines to move rapidly on design and manufacture of material for the Phase 1 clinical trial. This included our broad understanding of the safety of our platform to date across more than 1,000 subjects. We also benefited from the use of our well-established manufacturing capabilities, which produced over 100 batches of mRNA medicines for use in human clinical trials in just the last two years.
In short, this isn't Moderna's first rodeo. The company is preparing for the next round of trials to begin as early as this spring and has already begun the manufacturing processes so it can hit the ground running if phase 2 gets the green light.
A riskier buy that could easily reap massive rewards
Even if phase 2 trials start before the end of spring, Moderna still anticipates that it could be a year to a year and a half before the vaccine is able to be administered to people in the general public. Moderna is currently trading at a price-to-sales ratio of approximately 180, as investors anticipate potentially massive rewards if and when mRNA-1273 hits the market.
Admittedly, Moderna is a buy that carries some risk, as do most coronavirus biotech stocks at this time. That being said, the company is definitively leading the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine with a well-established platform of mRNA manufacturing and design processes behind it. For this reason, Moderna is a viable buy for risk-tolerant investors.