First things first: Not every company involved in developing diagnostic tests, treatments, or vaccines for COVID-19 will be a winner over the long term. And that likely includes some that have been racking up big gains in recent months.
On the other hand, some will be big winners -- and not just because of their COVID-19 efforts. After reviewing the quite lengthy list of companies with COVID-19 programs, I selected three that I think have really good chances of delivering strong returns over the next five years. If you have $3,000 to invest, buying these three coronavirus-focused stocks could pay off big time.
1. Abbott Labs
Goldman Sachs recently downgraded Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT) to a sell. Analyst Amit Hazan stated that investors "overreacted" to the healthcare giant's COVID-19 testing opportunity. I think that Hazan is dead wrong about Abbott.
The company has shipped nearly 2.5 million ID NOW COVID-19 tests, the fastest test currently available, and is ramping up capacity to produce over 2 million tests per month. It's shipped 2.8 million m2000 and Alinity m molecular lab tests in the U.S. and nearly 11.4 million COVID-19 antibody tests across the U.S. And Abbott's shares up 6% year to date. Investor overreaction? I don't think so.
What Hazan's downgrade really misses about Abbott is its other prospects beyond COVID-19. The company's Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system is already a huge winner that should greatly expand its market when the new version is cleared by the FDA. Abbott's MitraClip device for mitral regurgitation treatment and its Alinity family of lab diagnostics systems are also tremendous growth drivers.
I expect that Abbott will be able to deliver average annual earnings growth of more than 10% over the next few years, thanks to these and other products. Abbott is also a Dividend Aristocrat, with a dividend yield of more than 1.5%. My view is that the combination of the company's earnings-growth prospects and its solid dividend will provide market-beating returns over the long run.
2. Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) is the only big pharmaceutical company in the U.S. to establish a drive-through COVID-19 testing site in less than three weeks. It's also evaluating rheumatoid arthritis drug Olumiant in a clinical study as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
However, I think the most exciting component of Lilly's COVID-19 efforts is the company's experimental antibody development. Lilly and partner AbCellera recently started a phase 1 study of LY-Cov555, an antibody therapy developed from a patient who recovered from COVID-19. This therapy holds the potential for both treating and preventing the illness.
Even if Lilly's antibody therapy is unsuccessful, the company still has several growth drivers. Its diabetes franchise, including Trulicity, Jardiance, and Basaglar, continue to enjoy solid sales momentum. Sales are accelerating for breast cancer drug Verzeno, and immunology drugs Taltz and the aforementioned Olumiant are big winners. Lilly also hopes to pick up additional approved indications for existing drugs and has promising pipeline candidates such as atopic dermatitis drug lebrikizumab and pain drug tanezumab.
Like Abbott, Lilly offers an attractive dividend that currently yields a little under 2%. Even though there are headwinds for some of Lilly's older drugs, I look for the company to generate low double-digit-percentage earnings growth over the next few years. And if its COVID-19 antibody therapy pans out, that growth should be even higher.
Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) is without question the riskiest of the group. The company doesn't have any approved products on the market yet -- but the operative word there is "yet."
On May 26, Novavax announced that it has begun a phase 1/2 clinical study evaluating its COVID-19 vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373. It expects to report results from the phase 1 portion of the study in July and quickly move into phase 2 testing.
There are quite a few drugmakers with experimental COVID-19 vaccines in development. But Novavax has received the biggest investment so far from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is a good sign that it's on the right track.
But Novavax also has another promising candidate, flu vaccine NanoFlu. The vaccine beat Sanofi's FluZone Quadrivalent in a phase 3 study. I think NanoFlu has a good chance of winning approval and going on to becoming a blockbuster for Novavax. If this happens, the biotech stock will likely be worth a lot more than its current market cap of around $3 billion.