Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.34%) has maintained a spot in the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. The biotech company first sparked the market's interest when it brought its investigational COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir, rapidly into clinical trials. It solidified its position after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted remdesivir emergency use authorization based on encouraging trial data. This authorization isn't the same as approval and can be revoked at any time. That means remdesivir still is involved in clinical testing.
At the same time, the coronavirus vaccine race has heated up, with the U.S. government offering billions of dollars to companies with promising candidates.
Investors might ask: With attention on vaccine makers and its drug still investigational, is Gilead a good coronavirus investment? Let's take a closer look.
Stocking up on remdesivir
The government has launched Operation Warp Speed, an effort to help bring a vaccine to market by January 2021. But that doesn't mean treatments are no longer of interest. In fact, the U.S. bought up Gilead's entire July stock of remdesivir as well as 90% of August and September production. The European Commission earlier this month granted the drug conditional marketing authorization, and Japan in May offered remdesivir regulatory approval. So, it's clear countries are interested in stocking up on the drug.
And even if a vaccine makes it to market in the near future, treatments remain necessary. A vaccine may not be 100% efficacious, and some people might decide against vaccination. Though companies in the vaccine race are leading stock market gains at the moment, there still is plenty of room for treatment makers.
As for remdesivir's efficacy, trial data is encouraging, but the drug still must prove itself. So far, it has demonstrated the ability to help patients recover more quickly. In the latest phase 3 data, hospitalized patients with moderate COVID-19 who received remdesivir for five days were 65% more likely to see improvement on day 11 compared with those given the standard care. Trial data has suggested positive impact on survival, but so far numbers haven't been statistically significant.
Gilead continues to study remdesivir treatment earlier in the illness, in outpatient settings, in an inhaled formulation (versus the current intravenous method), and in combination with other medicines. There are about 20 active or enrolling clinical trials worldwide studying remdesivir, according to ClinicalTrials.gov.
More than 1,000 trials
From results so far, it seems clear remdesivir is helping some COVID-19 patients. Still, risks remain. Remdesivir must finish clinical studies and earn regulatory approval. There is also the risk another drugmaker will develop a more efficacious treatment. More than 1,000 active or enrolling trials globally involve various possible therapies such as hydroxychloroquine, corticosteroids, and even traditional Chinese medicine.
Gilead recently removed a third uncertainty: pricing. The company set a price of $390 per vial, meaning a standard six-vial treatment course translates into a $2,340 price tag per patient. Production costs per day of treatment total $0.93, according to estimates in a Journal of Virus Eradication report. Of course, a drug's value also includes the years of development and related expenses, but even considering these factors, it is likely Gilead will generate a profit from remdesivir sales. And that's good news for investors, especially considering the company will have spent about $1 billion on development and manufacturing by year end.
But the reason I like Gilead as a coronavirus stock is because this biotech company also has other revenue-generating drugs, such as HIV blockbuster Biktarvy. In the first quarter, sales of the treatment more than doubled to nearly $1.7 billion. The FDA is now reviewing Gilead's filgotinib, a rheumatoid arthritis drug that the company says has the potential for five indication launches within the coming four years. So no matter what the fate of remdesivir may be, Gilead has a few motors for growth in the years to come. And that's why this is a solid coronavirus stock to buy today.