Novavax (NVAX 2.31%) is trailing the leaders in the race to develop the first vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But data from the first study of the vaccine, which goes by the code name NVX-CoV2373, suggests it was worth the wait.

In the phase 1 portion of the phase 1/2 clinical trial, two doses of NVX-CoV2373 induced neutralizing antibodies in every volunteer in the study. The company noted that the levels of antibodies "compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID-19 disease."

Neutralizing antibodies are capable of blocking infection by the coronavirus in laboratory tests and hopefully will protect patients from developing COVID-19 if they're exposed to the coronavirus, although Novavax doesn't have any data on the latter yet.

Gloved hands giving an injection into a shoulder

Image source: Getty Images.

In addition to NVX-CoV2373, the study also tested combining  an adjuvant, Matrix-M, which is designed to increase the immune response of vaccines. In the study, the 5-microgram dose of NVX-CoV2373 plus Matrix-M performed as well as the 25-microgram dose and appeared to induce an immune response that could develop into long-term immunity.

Equally important, the lower dose working well in the presence of Matrix-M means Novavax can sell five times as many doses while it ramps up production.

The vaccine was generally well tolerated, although it did have some mild side effects. The biotech noted that the side effects were worse for the second dose, which could be a sign that the first dose elicited an immune response that's causing a stronger reaction to the booster shot.