Albert Einstein once said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." The famous scientist likely wasn't thinking about a global pandemic when he made the statement. But the concept does apply to the ongoing health crisis.

There definitely are opportunities for investors in the middle of the difficulty the world is experiencing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Quite a few public companies with solid growth prospects have promising coronavirus-related programs. Here are three top coronavirus stocks that especially look like good picks to buy in August.

Gold-colored dollar sign surrounded by coronavirus cells

Image source: Getty Images.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) ranks among the leaders in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. The big drugmaker and its partner, the University of Oxford, announced positive interim results in July from a phase 1/2 study of COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222. Their experimental vaccine is now being evaluated in pivotal phase 2/3 clinical trials.

The company is providing up to 400 million doses of its vaccine to several European countries at no profit. However, it will likely make plenty of money from AZD1222 after the pandemic is over (assuming the vaccine wins regulatory approvals).

AstraZeneca has plenty of growth opportunities in addition to AZD1222. Sales continue to skyrocket for its oncology franchise, with Infinzi and Lynparza leading the way. Other blockbusters are also enjoying solid momentum, including diabetes drug Farxiga and blood thinner Brilinta.

In addition, AstraZeneca's pipeline features more than 60 programs, over 20 of which are in late-stage clinical studies. Among the promising late-stage candidates are asthma drug tezepulumab and anemia drug roxadustat. 

Wall Street analysts think that AstraZeneca will be able to deliver average annual earnings growth of 19% over the next few years. With the company also offering a dividend that currently yields close to 2.5%, AstraZeneca should provide market-beating total returns.

Eli Lilly

Unlike AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) isn't in the hunt to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. However, Lilly continues to make progress in testing several potential treatments for the novel coronavirus disease.

Last week, Lilly advanced LY-CoV555 into a phase 3 study for preventing COVID-19 in nursing homes. LY-CoV555 is the lead antibody candidate from Lilly's partnership with AbCellera. A phase 1 study of the candidate therapy is ongoing in treating hospitalized patients with COVID-19 as is a phase 2 study in the ambulatory setting.

Lilly also partnered with Junshi Biosciences to develop therapeutic antibodies for potentially preventing and treating COVID-19. The lead candidate from this collaboration, LY-CoV016, showed promising results in a phase 1 study. Lilly is evaluating rheumatoid arthritis drug Olumiant in a phase 3 study for treating hospitalized patients with COVID-19 as well.

But there's a lot more going on for Lilly than its COVID-19 programs. The company is a market leader in several areas. Sales are soaring for diabetes drugs Trulicity and Jardiance, autoimmune-disease drugs Olumiant and Taltz, and cancer drugs Verzenio and Tyvyt. 

Lilly's pipeline is loaded with 18 late-stage programs plus four others awaiting regulatory approval. Especially promising candidates include pain drug tanezumab and autoimmune-disease drug mirikizumab. 

Analysts expect Lilly to generate average annual earnings growth of more than 13% over the next five years. Investors will also benefit from the company's dividend, which currently yields close to 2%.

Novavax

Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) isn't profitable like AstraZeneca and Lilly. It doesn't pay a dividend. But the biotech stock could be the biggest winner of the group.

Last week, Novavax announced encouraging phase 1 results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373. Neutralizing antibodies that could prevent infection by the novel coronavirus were produced in 100% of the study's participants. This news prompted some analysts to refer to NVX-CoV2373 as a potential best-in-class COVID-19 vaccine.

Novavax already ranks among the top drugmakers in terms of COVID-19 vaccine program funding. It has received more than $2 billion so far, including $1.6 billion from Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government program to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.

Investors are understandably excited about the prospects for NVX-CoV2373. However, Novavax also has another promising candidate -- NanoFlu. The experimental flu vaccine beat Sanofi's Fluzone Quadrivalent in a head-to-head phase 3 study. Novavax's next step is to file for FDA approval for NanoFlu. 

With Novavax's market cap hovering around $10 billion, the stock should have plenty of room to run if it wins approvals for both NanoFlu and NVX-CoV2373. The chances of that happening appear to be better now than ever.