U.S. investors' enthusiasm over Moderna (MRNA -0.21%) began earlier this year after the biotech launched its effort to develop a novel coronavirus vaccine. CureVac (CVAC -1.62%) hasn't generated much buzz in the U.S. until recently -- for a good reason. The German biotech conducted its initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange less than two weeks ago

Is CureVac, the relative newbie for U.S. investors, the more attractive biotech stock to buy now? Or is Moderna still the better pick? Here's how CureVac and Moderna stack up against each other.

Two COVID-19 vaccine bottles and a syringe on top of U.S. cash

Image source: Getty Images.

Comparing their coronavirus vaccines

Both CureVac and Moderna developed coronavirus vaccine candidates that use messenger RNA (mRNA) to spur the body to generate antibodies. But Moderna has a big head start in terms of clinical progress.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health initiated a phase 1 clinical study evaluating Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 in March. Positive results from this study were announced in May, with Moderna beginning its own phase 2 study later in the month. Its coronavirus vaccine candidate is now in pivotal phase 3 testing.

CureVac reported positive preclinical results for its lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate in May. The company received approvals in June from German and Belgian regulatory authorities to begin phase 1 testing of the experimental mRNA vaccine. No results have been announced yet from this early stage study. 

It's too early to know which of these vaccines will be more effective and safe. However, CureVac could have one advantage in that its COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in working at very low doses (2 to 6 micrograms) compared to Moderna's 100-microgram dose for mRNA-1273.

Looking at the rest of their pipelines 

CureVac's pipeline includes three other mRNA candidates in phase 1 testing other than its investigational coronavirus vaccine. Two of those candidates are experimental cancer immunotherapies. One targets non-small lung cancer, while the other targets adenoid cystic carcinoma (a rare type of cancer that starts in glands), advanced melanoma, and cancers of the head and neck. 

The company's rabies vaccine candidate CV7202 appears to be especially promising. CureVac announced encouraging interim results in January from a phase 1 study of the experimental vaccine.

Moderna claims a much broader pipeline. It has three candidates in phase 2 testing: cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine mRNA-1647, personalized cancer vaccine mRNA-4157, and AZD8601, an experimental therapy targeting coronary artery disease. Moderna is partnering with Merck to develop mRNA-4157 and with AstraZeneca to develop AZD8601.

The biotech's pipeline also features 10 early stage programs. Five of them are experimental mRNA vaccines for immunizing against viruses including influenza and Zika.  

Money matters

Neither CureVac nor Moderna is profitable at this point. This makes the companies' cash positions especially important.

On that front, Moderna is the clear leader. It reported cash, cash equivalents, and investments totaling $3.1 billion as of June 30, 2020. CureVac had 43.4 million euros (around $51 million) as of March 31, 2020. It subsequently raised $640 million in private financing and gross proceeds of around $245 million with its IPO.

CureVac is also behind Moderna in landing major supply deals for its COVID-19 vaccine. The company recently announced that it wrapped up "exploratory talks" with the European Commission about a purchase of up to 225 million doses of its vaccine. 

Meanwhile, Moderna has won deals with the U.S. government totaling more than $2.5 billion. These deals include supplying 100 million doses of mRNA-1273 with an option for the U.S. to purchase up to 400 million additional doses.

The better pick

CureVac's market cap is less than half the size of Moderna's. However, I still think that Moderna is the better pick between these two coronavirus-focused biotech stocks.

Moderna's mRNA-1273 is farther along in clinical testing. The biotech's pipeline beats CureVac's pipeline. Moderna is also in a stronger financial position to market its COVID-19 vaccine (assuming it wins regulatory approvals) and advance its other programs. 

Keep your eyes on CureVac. But Moderna is still on top for now in my view.