What happened

The war against COVID-19 is intensifying, and investors are placing their bets on which companies they believe will emerge victorious. Shares of Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT), Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO), and Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ:SRNE) rocketed 96%, 31%, and 14%, respectively, on Thursday.

So what

Vaxart's shares almost doubled after the biotech company announced a "memorandum of understanding" with Attwill Medical Solutions (AMS) for the potential production of its experimental oral COVID-19 vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

"We believe AMS' experience coupled with its ability to manufacture a billion or more doses per year would be a beneficial addition to our group of [contract development and manufacturing organization] partners, and enable the large scale manufacturing and ultimate supply of our COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S., Europe, and other countries in need," Vaxart CEO Andrei Floroiu said in a press release.

A person is pointing to three upwardly sloping lines on a chart.

COVID-19 stocks surged on Thursday. Image source: Getty Images.

Vaxart says that its vaccine, which is administered by tablet rather than injection, has multiple advantages over other vaccine candidates being developed by its competitors.

"We believe our oral vaccines, generated on our proven platform, have the potential to offer superior protection against airborne viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 by triggering both mucosal and systemic immunity while being administered by a room-temperature-stable tablet, an enormous logistical advantage in large vaccination campaigns," Floroiu said.

Inovio, meanwhile, announced that it was expanding its executive team. Gene Kim, who brings with him experience as CFO for multiple public companies, will be tasked with driving Inovio's growth in Asia. Dr. Mammen (Anza) Mammen, who previously was chief of the Pandemic Warning Team for the U.S. Department of Defense, will help lead the company's clinical development operations. 

Sorrento likely rose as investors placed bets that surging coronavirus case counts worldwide would increase the likelihood its experimental antibodies treatment is approved for emergency use by health authorities. The biopharmaceutical company says the treatment can neutralize the coronavirus.  

Now what 

If coronavirus infections continue to rise at an alarming rate, more money will likely flow into companies that are working to develop vaccines and treatments. Yet, with more than 100 companies competing to be the first to find a panacea for the crisis, it's difficult to know which will ultimately win the race.

Thus, while they're promising not only for their potential investment merits but also for the good they can do for humanity, Vaxart, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and Sorrento Therapeutics should be considered high-risk stocks.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.