A widely available coronavirus vaccine may be the only thing that can put an end to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. It will save countless lives, allow economies to safely reopen, and make masks and social distancing no longer necessary. And many companies in the biotech sector are trying their luck at becoming the first to find such a vaccine.
One coronavirus stock is seeing a lot of buzz right now: VBI Vaccines (VBIV -6.80%), which is still in the early stages of developing a COVID-19 vaccine but has significant advantages over other pure-play vaccine players. Let's take a look at what they are.
Part of the fight against coronavirus
Together with the National Research Council Canada, VBI Vaccines is investigating a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called VBI-2900 in preclinical trials. The candidate actually defends against all types of coronavirus -- think MERS and SARS-CoV-1 as well as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
The Canadian government awarded VBI Vaccines $56 million Canadian dollars to use toward research and development expenses for the vaccine candidate through phase 2. Preclinical data for VBI-2900 will be available within the current quarter, and management expects the candidate to enter clinical studies by the end of 2020. VBI has secured a manufacturing source, although financial terms have not been disclosed. Meanwhile, the company is making rapid advancements in other areas of its portfolio.
A pipeline with promise
Earlier this year, the company's hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine candidate, Sci-B-Vac, met its primary endpoint in phase 3 clinical trials. Of participants who received three doses of the vaccine candidate, 99.3% developed protection against HBV, compared with 94.8% of patients who received a standard-of-care vaccine.
That is good news, as the worldwide HBV vaccination market is projected to grow to $2 billion by 2026, marking a compound annual growth rate of almost 6%. VBI Vaccines will submit a biologics license application (BLA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Sci-B-Vac's approval in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The company is also running a preclinical study to investigate its cancer vaccine candidate, VBI-1901, against glioblastoma, the most invasive form of brain cancer. In one case, a patient's tumor shrank by more than 50% in size after the patient received the experimental vaccine. Only 6% of seniors who develop glioblastoma survive after five years, meaning good results at this early stage in the clinical process are especially encouraging. By next year, the company expects to move VBI-1901 into phase 1.
Rich in funding
As of June 30, the company has approximately $86 million in cash and equivalents, which is more than enough to offset a quarterly cash burn of $15.5 million. Part of its capital came from a $50 million debt-financing deal with K2 Health Ventures.
Currently, the company's market capitalization is just north of $700 million, considerably smaller than multibillion-dollar coronavirus vaccine companies such as Moderna (MRNA -3.34%) and Novavax (NVAX -5.30%). Its small-cap valuation does give investors an advantage, as there is more room for shares to appreciate. However, there are disadvantages here too, most notably the fact that VBI Vaccine's coronavirus vaccine candidate is not progressing as fast as many competitors'.
As of Aug. 24, shares of VBI Vaccines were up by more than 400% year to date. Biotech investors who missed the rally in coronavirus vaccine stocks may nonetheless wish to purchase a small stake today. Even if VBI-2900 fails clinical studies or does not enter commercialization promptly, investors still have the company's HBV and glioblastoma vaccine candidates to fall back on to prevent a total wipeout of their capital.