What happened

Shares of Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT) are up by 13.2% as of 11:14 a.m. EDT on Thursday, after the company announced the publication of a new study that estimates the annual cost of norovirus gastroenteritis in the U.S. The data from the study in question, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, makes a strong case that a vaccine for norovirus would save billions of dollars every year. 

So what

Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes such symptoms as vomiting and diarrhea. According to this new study, outbreaks of norovirus cost the U.S. a median of $10.6 billion every year. Further, outbreaks that go unreported account for more than 90% of all the costs, according to the data. The study also says that about half of the expenses associated with the norovirus happen during winter.

This virus is particularly costly for employers since productivity losses account for about 89% of the costs. There is currently no vaccine for the norovirus approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, Vaxart -- which specializes in the development of oral vaccines -- currently has a norovirus vaccine candidate in its pipeline.

Doctor giving a thumbs up.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

Investors have been bidding up shares of Vaxart due to its efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. But it seems its investigational norovirus vaccine also presents an exciting opportunity. Given the losses associated with this virus, Vaxart's candidate could go on to become a blockbuster product. Still, it will likely be a few years before the biotech company can profit from this opportunity since its norovirus candidate is only in a phase 2 study. In addition, Vaxart's stock is up by more than 4,000% year to date, and the company's shares will plunge if it fails to produce positive results from its clinical trial. Investors should consider these risks before purchasing shares of Vaxart.