With no end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, the world is seeing a frantic effort to develop a vaccine for the deadly virus. SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 disease, has taken close to 833,000 lives worldwide. Global recorded cases stand at 24 million, with 5.8 million -- and more than 180,000 COVID-related deaths -- in the U.S. alone.
AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), based in Cambridge, U.K., is working with the University of Oxford to develop its vaccine candidate, AZD1222, which is one of five leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates in phase 3 testing. In July, the company announced favorable interim results from its ongoing phase 1/2 clinical study of the experimental vaccine.
Shares of AstraZeneca are up 12.5% so far this year, while the market, tracked by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, has gained 8.2%. But besides its vaccine development, this $146 billion mega-company offers a lot of other reasons to invest.
AstraZeneca's vaccine progress
AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford's adenovirus vector-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate is in phase 3 testing in Brazil, the U.K., the U.S., and South Africa. A late-stage study could soon start in the U.S.
On July 20, the company published the interim results of the phase 1/2 trial in the medical journal The Lancet. The results showed that all evaluated participants tolerated AZD1222 and showed a good immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
It's good news that most participants displayed neutralizing antibodies, which are are small proteins that recognize certain components of a pathogen and prevent it from invading healthy cells. All participants also showed a T-cell response. A good T-cell response implies the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells and and can cause those cells to self-destruct.
The company has secured a lot of funding for its vaccine candidate and intends to supply more than 2 billion doses globally. That funding includes about $1.2 billion from the U.S. government; $750 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the "Vaccine Alliance"; $86.6 million from the U.K. government; $127 million from Brazil; and $890 million from four countries in Europe. Additionally, the Serum Institute of India has ordered 1 billion doses (no price disclosed), and the company is still in talks with the nation of Japan.
On Aug. 24, AstraZeneca announced it had struck a deal with Catalent Cell & Gene Therapy to provide drug substance manufacturing at the latter's facility located in Harmans, Md., where it plans to facilitate "multiple production trains to run in parallel" to produce doses of the potential vaccine. The company expects to begin production late in the third quarter this year. Earlier in June, Catalent also offered its facility in Anagni, Italy, to provide large-scale filling and packaging of the potential vaccine.
What about other drugs in its catalog?
AstraZeneca's management has stated they have no intention of making a profit from a coronavirus vaccine and would support easy access to it. The company has made agreements with global partners to ensure more production lines and smooth delivery of its potential vaccine. Though any company in the vaccine race could profit from the opportunity, AstraZeneca could choose not to do so without hurting its business, thanks to its solid portfolio of existing drugs.
In the first half of 2020, ended June 30, the company saw a 12% increase in total revenue to $12.6 million. Its new medicines contributed $2 billion of that, and its oncology drugs alone accounted for about 42% of that $2 billion. Three cancer drugs -- Tagrisso, Imfinzi, and Lynparza -- added $3.7 million combined, and AstraZeneca's respiratory and immunology drugs are also gaining traction. Symbicort, used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, contributed $1.4 million to total revenue in the first half. The company also has 166 projects in its pipeline.
Is AstraZeneca a good coronavirus buy?
AstraZeneca has tough competition in the vaccine race. Chinese drugmakers Sinopharm Group and Sinovac Biotech, U.S. biotech companies Moderna and Pfizer, and Germany-based BioNTech all have vaccine candidates in phase 3 testing.
Even if AstraZeneca succeeds in becoming the first with a successful vaccine, a more effective vaccine by any other company could supersede it. The good news is that AstraZeneca is a good stock,with or without a COVID-19 vaccine. The company's stable business, growing revenue and earnings, and strong catalog of drugs craft a strong buy case. Shares of AstraZeneca gained 31.2% last year, higher than the market's growth of 29%.
The cherry on top is that it's a dividend stock that has been paying consistent dividends for the last 10 years. Its average dividend yield of 2.5% is better than the S&P 500's average dividend yield of 1.6% over the same period. All these reasons make this biotech stock a good coronavirus buy today.