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Is Emergent BioSolutions the Next Hot Coronavirus Stock?

By Mark Prvulovic - Apr 29, 2020 at 8:48AM

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With all its new COVID-19 vaccine deals, is this stock worth your attention?

When it comes to hot coronavirus stocks, investors have likely heard a lot about the many potential vaccines and other treatments currently being developed. However, there is one company working in the COVID-19 vaccine market that hasn't gotten much attention in comparison with some of its peers.

That business is Emergent BioSolutions (EBS 2.04%), a biotech company that specializes in developing vaccines and antibody therapies. The company recently ended up grabbing quite a bit of investor attention thanks to a recently announced partnership with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -1.10%) to help manufacture the latter's COVID-19 vaccine. 

Nor is this the first COVID-19-related deal that Emergent has signed. Over the past month, the company has signed agreements with a number of other COVID-19 vaccine makers as well. Does all this make Emergent BioSolutions the next hot coronavirus stock, one you should keep on your watch list?

Scientist looking through a microscope in a lab.

Image source: Getty Images.

The news with Johnson & Johnson

The major announcement that has caught the media's attention is a new deal that Emergent signed with Johnson & Johnson to help manufacture the latter's COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this month that its new drug could be scaled up to 1 billion doses worldwide.

Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest companies so far to announce a potential vaccine, and this partnership is a big deal, expected to bring in about $135 million in revenue for Emergent. Although Johnson & Johnson confirmed that it isn't planning to make a profit from this vaccine, the pharmaceutical giant could easily end up dominating the COVID-19 vaccine market due to the sheer number of doses it's able to manufacture. In comparison, smaller COVID-19 vaccine candidate developers -- such as Inovio Pharmaceuticals -- have stated they will be able to produce only about 1 million doses by the end of the year.

The only thing that could put this deal in jeopardy is the fact that Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate still needs to undergo clinical testing before it can be mass-produced. Initial trials are expected to begin in September, and with two other backup vaccine candidates already lined up just in case, there's a good chance that at least one will end up being a clinical success.

American 100 dollar bill with a face mask over Benjamin Franklin's face.

Image source: Getty Images.

Other COVID-19-related projects

While all this is exciting enough for Emergent BioSolutions, the company has already signed a number of similar agreements this year. One of these is with Novamax, another vaccine developer best known for its innovative NanoFlu influenza vaccine; the company has made inroads into developing its own COVID-19 vaccine as well. While exactly how much money this could make for Emergent wasn't specified, it still represents another potential revenue stream should one of Novamax's drugs -- either its NanoFlu vaccine or its COVID-19 candidate -- turn out to be successful.

Emergent BioSolutions also signed a similar agreement with another company, Vaxart, to help manufacture Vaxart's COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Details again are scarce, with the exact financial compensation remaining unclear. What does seem clear, however, is that Emergent BioSolutions is quickly becoming a go-to for businesses looking to scale up production of their COVID-19 vaccines. In the upcoming weeks and months, it won't be surprising if some other companies working on their own vaccines turn to Emergent BioSolutions for manufacturing support.

On top of all this, Emergent BioSolutions announced back in March that it had begun developing two plasma-derived candidates to treat COVID-19 built through its own hyperimmune platform, which is how the company developed its other treatments. The company expects clinical trials to begin as early as Q3 2020. There aren't many companies out there opting for the plasma-derived approach to developing a COVID-19 treatment, something that helps Emergent's own potential treatment stand out from the competition.

Is this really a big deal?

While these COVID-19 projects are giving the company a lot of publicity, they might not be as big of a deal for Emergent BioSolutions as some investors would expect. As mentioned before, the deal with Johnson & Johnson, which could very well be the biggest COVID-19 vaccine developer in terms of the number of planned doses, is worth only $135 million in potential revenue. While that's a nice bonus for Emergent, it's not particularly game-changing for an already fast-growing company that reported around $1.1 billion in revenue for 2019.

At the same time, all these COVID-19 candidates still need to successfully pass clinical trials before they can be manufactured en masse. Considering that fewer than 10% of all drug candidates pass all their clinical tests and receive regulatory approval, there's a significant chance that some of these COVID-19 vaccine candidates will fail in clinical testing. 

Magnifying glass and a calculator on top of several sheets containing financial information.

Image source: Getty Images.

What's really going on with Emergent BioSolutions?

Taking a look at the company's recent Q4 and 2019 full-year financial figures, Emergent has already been doing very well for itself. Total full-year revenues have grown by 41.4%, from $782.4 million to $1.1 billion, between 2018 and 2019. The company is also profitable, something that can't be said for many other biotech stocks on the market. Emergent reported net income of $54.5 million throughout the entire year, although this figure has fallen a little from 2018's $62.7 million.

What's driving this growth? For one, Emergent has a number of lucrative non-COVID-19 related agreements going on. This includes a newly awarded $490 million contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide its botulism antitoxin heptavalent (BAT) treatment over a 10-year period. Botulism is a rare but deadly condition caused by certain types of bacterial toxins, typically found in low-oxygen environments like canned food. BAT is the only approved antitoxin available to treat botulism, with the government maintaining an emergency stockpile of the treatment in case of bioterrorism attacks or other emergencies.

Additionally, a number of Emergent BioSolutions's own products are doing quite well. Its Narcan nasal spray, which is used by emergency health workers to treat opioid overdoses, has increased in revenue by 60% between Q4 2018 and Q4 2019, bringing in $66.9 million in sales for the quarter. Another revenue driver is Emergent's smallpox vaccine, ACAM2000, which became available this year and has already brought in an impressive $78.5 million for the fourth quarter.

Is this really a good coronavirus stock?

In the end, I'm going to have to say no. If you're looking for a company that's well positioned to grow directly because of this pandemic, whether that's due to a potential treatment or to a different product or service that's in much greater demand now, Emergent BioSolutions doesn't really fit the bill. Most of its business is unrelated to COVID-19. It'll make a nice bonus if these COVID-19 deals work out in the end, but they're not as monumental as some investors might make them out to be. 

However, I still think Emergent BioSolutions is an attractive investment overall. Impressive double-digit revenue growth alongside a positive net income is enough to make this company an appealing choice for many growth-oriented investors. Just don't get too caught up in any COVID-19 excitement surrounding this company right now.

Mark Prvulovic has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Emergent BioSolutions. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Emergent BioSolutions Inc. Stock Quote
Emergent BioSolutions Inc.
EBS
$30.50 (2.04%) $0.61
Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
JNJ
$165.30 (-1.10%) $-1.84

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