There are multiple fronts and multiple players in the battle against novel coronavirus disease COVID-19. Some companies have developed diagnostic tests that help identify if individuals have COVID-19 or have antibodies to the virus that causes it. Others are developing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19. And still others hope for success with their experimental vaccines to protect against infection by the novel coronavirus.
Abbott Laboraties (ABT 0.27%) is a key leader on the diagnostics front. Moderna (MRNA 3.03%) is at the forefront of the race to test a coronavirus vaccine. Which of these two stocks is the better pick for investors right now? Here's how Abbott and Moderna stack up against each other.
The case for Abbott Labs
One of the chief complaints about COVID-19 diagnostics tests has been that they take too long for results to be available. Abbott Labs addressed this issue quite effectively by gaining emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late March for a new test that can provide a positive result within five minutes.
Another key challenge has been in testing to determine if a person has antibodies to the novel coronavirus, which would indicate that he or she has been infected by the virus but recovered from it. Abbott rolled out a diagnostics test for this purpose as well earlier this month.
Although Abbott Labs beat Wall Street's expectations in the first quarter of 2020, its COVID-19 tests didn't contribute significant revenue in the quarter. That could change in Q2, though. In the meantime, there are plenty of other reasons to consider buying Abbott stock.
The company has several other growth drivers besides its COVID-19 tests. Abbott awaits FDA clearance for a new version of its popular Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system and is working to resolve some open issues to get the product on the market. Sales for its Alinity family of lab diagnostics systems continue to grow as do its MitraClip device for leaky heart valves.
Investors also should like Abbott's dividend. Although the dividend yield of 1.5% isn't super-high, it's a smart bet that the dividend payout will grow higher over time. Abbott has increased its dividend for a remarkable 48 consecutive years and has a strong financial position to keep the dividend hikes coming.
The case for Moderna
Moderna was among the first drugmakers to launch a program to develop a novel coronavirus vaccine. The biotech received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in January to advance a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine into clinical testing in humans.
It didn't take Moderna long to make significant progress. By mid-March, the company announced the dosing of the first patient with experimental mRNA coronavirus vaccine mRNA-1273. This clinical study is being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
While Moderna has gained a lot of attention because of its coronavirus vaccine, the biotech is farther along in development with other programs. Moderna's lead candidate is another mRNA vaccine, mRNA-1647, that targets cytomegalovirus (CMV). The company hopes to report interim results from a phase 2 clinical study of the vaccine in Q3.
In addition, Moderna's pipeline includes five other vaccines in clinical development targeting viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), H7N9 flu, and Zika. The company teamed up with Merck on the development of cancer vaccines. It also partnered with AstraZeneca on a drug to treat myocardial ischemia, a full or partial blockage of coronary arteries.
Moderna has temporarily paused some of its clinical studies, though. Because of concerns for patients enrolled in some of these studies and their caregivers, the biotech halted new enrollment in three studies. Two other studies that are already fully enrolled could also be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis as some patients might not be able to receive vaccine doses on time or at all.
Better coronavirus stock
Moderna has definitely benefited the most so far from its coronavirus programs. Its stock has skyrocketed nearly 170% so far this year. But this rapid rise has also pushed Moderna's market cap to around $17 billion. That's a steep level for a company that has no approved product on the market.
My view is that Abbott Labs is the better pick. It's a blue chip stock with an impressive track record. Abbott should enjoy solid growth from its COVID-19 diagnostics tests but isn't dependent on these tests for its success. Its share price isn't going to soar as Moderna's has, but Abbott is also a lot less risky than Moderna is.