What happened

Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX), a late-stage vaccine developer, is poised for yet another strong session today. Specifically, the biotech's shares jumped by as much as 35% in premarket trading Tuesday morning. If this latest move northward holds during today's session, Novavax's stock will have risen by an astounding 3,500% for the whole of 2020.  

The catalyst? Ahead of the opening bell, Novavax announced that the federal government -- through the Operation Warp Speed (OWS) program -- awarded the company a staggering $1.6 billion to complete the late-stage development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate known as NVX-CoV2373. The funding will reportedly be used to support a pivotal-stage trial, along with the production of 100 million doses of NVX‑CoV2373 by January 2021. 

A rocket above the cloud deck.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Even though Novavax was initially left out of OWS, the company just landed the biggest award from the program to date. That's definitely a major vote of confidence from the federal government, perhaps indicating that NVX-CoV2373's ongoing early-stage trial is going exceptionally well. 

Now what

Novavax is expected to roll out the vaccine's preliminary immunogenicity and safety results by the end of July. Assuming these data support further development, NVX-CoV2373's all-important disease reduction study (a pivotal Phase 3 trial) should get under way by October.

What this means is that this mid-cap biotech has a good shot at being one of the first companies to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market, perhaps as early as the middle of 2021. That's a big deal, because the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down.