Companies across the healthcare spectrum are involved in the fight against COVID-19. Some are working on treatments for the disease, while others have rushed to create accurate test kits that can detect traces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in mere minutes. It's the companies working on vaccines for the disease, however, that have garnered the most attention -- and with good reason. Given how the pandemic has affected our daily lives, our best hope of returning to a semblance of normalcy is arguably the development of an effective vaccine.
One of the companies working on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT). Thanks to its efforts in this fight, the biotech's stock has skyrocketed; even after a recent pullback, it's still up by 1,410% year to date. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is up by a comparatively meager 4.8% over the same period.
In terms of the progress of its vaccine candidate, Vaxart is far behind the "leaders" in this race. But that doesn't mean investors should overlook this company. Let's take a closer look at why Vaxart could be a winner in the long run.
A unique vaccine
While companies including Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca have kicked off phase 3 clinical trials for their experimental COVID-19 vaccines, Vaxart hasn't even started a phase 1 study yet. On the surface, there seems no reason to bet on the company at this point, at least for those looking to profit from its coronavirus-related efforts. But there is one major factor investors need to consider: While most vaccines are administered through injections, Vaxart's candidate will be an oral vaccine, which provides several advantages.
First, many patients would rather avoid injections whenever possible, an option they will have if Vaxart's product makes it to the market. Most importantly, though, as the company itself argues in a news release: "Vaxart believes that a room-temperature-stable tablet is easier to distribute, store, and administer than injectable vaccines and may provide a significantly faster response to a pandemic than injectable vaccines, enabling a greater portion of the population to be protected."
It is also worth noting that the first waves of vaccines to hit the market probably won't be the only ones needed. In the long run, the most effective vaccine will likely grab a reasonable share of the market. Vaxart hopes that its oral vaccine will prove more effective than others, and thanks to the logistical advantages mentioned above, the company could still end up profiting even if it is currently trailing the leaders in this race. Vaxart filed an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Aug. 10. If the company is given the green light, it will be able to start clinical trials for its vaccine.
Other pipeline candidates
Vaxart also has a promising flu vaccine in its pipeline, and the company reported positive results from a phase 2 study for this vaccine in January. This clinical trial pitted Vaxart's vaccine against Fluzone, a popular flu vaccine on the market that is owned by Sanofi. According to Vaxart, its experimental flu vaccine generated a 39% reduction in clinical disease when compared with the placebo, while Fluzone generated a 27% reduction. Vaxart's flu vaccine also decreased infection rates by 47%, compared with a decrease of 43% for Fluzone. Vaxart's candidate was well-tolerated during the study.
The biotech is also working on a vaccine for the norovirus, a contagious virus that causes symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. In a phase 1 clinical trial, its candidate was well-tolerated and triggered broad immune responses. There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines for the norovirus, and this infection costs the U.S. a median of $10.6 billion every year in various health-related (and other) expenses. Vaxart estimates that the market for a vaccine for this virus is worth more than $3 billion.
Worth buying today?
Although some of Vaxart's programs seem promising, it is much too early to know whether they will come to fruition. Sure, the company's stock could get a nice lift over the next few months as it makes some progress in its efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. In the long run, though, things are much harder to predict for the company. In short, while I think it is worth keeping a close eye on Vaxart, I don't think it is worth initiating a position in this biotech stock today.