There are a couple of easy ways to determine if a publicly traded company has become the center of attention. You can look at its average daily trading volume or look up the company's name on Google Trends. Big upward trends on both are good signs that there's a lot of buzz surrounding the company.
Novavax (NVAX -5.30%) is a great example. Its 30-day average trading volume has skyrocketed more than 1,000% over the last 12 months. The number of Google searches for Novavax have soared. Why is everyone talking about Novavax?
A COVID-19 vaccine leader
Pretty much every company that has announced a serious effort to develop a diagnostic test, treatment, or vaccine for COVID-19 has benefited from increased attention. Novavax hasn't just made announcements; it's quickly become a leader in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
The biotech announced on Feb. 26, 2020 that it was evaluating multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates in preclinical testing to select the best one to advance into clinical studies. A couple of weeks later, Novavax picked up $4 million in initial funding for its COVID-19 vaccine program from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Novavax identified its top candidate, NVX-CoV2373, by early April. The experimental vaccine was so promising that CEPI committed to fund up to $384 million in additional funding, its biggest investment ever for a COVID-19 vaccine program.
NVX-CoV2373 advanced into a phase 1/2 clinical trial in late May, becoming the third experimental COVID-19 vaccine in clinical testing. Novavax expects to report preliminary results from the phase 1 portion of the study in July and quickly initiate the phase 2 part of the study afterward, if all goes well.
Novavax's even better bet
While Novavax was beginning to claim a spot in the limelight with its COVID-19 efforts, the company was making significant progress on another front. On March 24, Novavax announced encouraging results from a phase 3 study of its nanoparticle-based flu vaccine NanoFlu.
In this study, NanoFlu went head-to-head against one of the top approved flu vaccines, Sanofi's FluZone Quadrivalent, in adults aged 65 and over. And it fared very well in comparison in all four virus strains included in the vaccines.
Novavax plans to file for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of NanoFlu using the agency's accelerated approval pathway. With the vaccine's solid late-stage results and comparable safety profile to FluZone, the chances of winning approval appear to be pretty good.
NanoFlu should have tremendous commercial prospects if it does gain FDA approval. The low end of estimated peak sales for the flu vaccine is around $550 million, with the upper end at $1.7 billion.
Worthy of attention
I think that Novavax deserves all of the attention that it's getting. Although the company appears to be left out of the Trump administration's list of top five COVID-19 vaccines to receive federal funding and support, Novavax is without question among the leaders in COVID-19 vaccine development.
My view is that the prospects for NanoFlu by itself makes the biotech stock an interesting one for investors to consider. If Novavax is successful with its COVID-19 vaccine, its current market cap of under $3 billion will look cheap, in retrospect. I suspect a lot of people will keep talking about Novavax for a long time to come.