As of Sept. 15, there have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, and over 930,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are scrambling to develop an effective vaccine against the deadly disease in order to save lives and allow economies to reopen safely. As a result of this race, picking the vaccine stocks that will likely be "winners" has become a hot topic in the investment world.

There are many reasons why efforts to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine may not proceed as expected, including clinical trial failures, serious adverse events after receiving the vaccine candidate, and skepticism about potential long-term side effects. While it's always good for investors to diversify their capital among companies that are most likely to advance a potential vaccine, they should also hedge their bet with coronavirus treatment stocks if vaccine trials go horribly wrong. So, let us examine a three-stock coronavirus basket that's a safe bet for investors interested in getting in on all the action. 

Doctor holding needle and coronavirus vaccine vial.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Pfizer

Thanks to large-cap pharma Pfizer (PFE 0.91%), we may be close to finding a safe and effective immunization against SARS-CoV-2 less than a year after outbreaks began. The company's messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, BNT162b2, is currently in phase 2/3 clinical trials and will (hopefully) return key data by the end of October. So far, the U.S. government has backed the science behind Pfizer's experimental vaccine with a $1.95 billion order for 100 million doses.

As was evident in the second quarter of 2020, the company's core business has also been holding up amid the pandemic. Sales of its blood thinner drug Eliquis and oncology treatment Ibrance each brought in approximately $1.3 billion in operational sales. Sales of Eliquis grew by 19% from the year prior, up a staggering 15% in the U.S and 25% internationally. Ibrance's revenues jumped by 9% overall compared to the same period last year.  

Pfizer expects to generate up to $50.6 billion in revenue over the rest of the year (not including potential COVID-19 vaccine sales), reinvest $9 billion into research and development, and earn $2.95 per share. Those are some impressive results for a company trading for 4.1 times price-to-sales and 14.31 times price-to-earnings. If that's not a cheap enough deal, Pfizer also offers a 4.2% dividend yield.

2. AstraZeneca

Like Pfizer, AstraZeneca (AZN 1.67%) and the University of Oxford are also developing an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine candidate is in phase 3 clinical trials, with results likely to be released by the end of the year. The company pledged that it would give away 400 million doses of its vaccine at no profit to select European countries if approved.

The experimental vaccine's clinical trial unfortunately halted this month as a participant developed serious symptoms, which were suspected to be part of an adverse reaction to the candidate. Statistically speaking, one incidence of a severe adverse event out of 18,000 individuals tested doesn't imply that the odds of the vaccine candidate's approval are bad. AstraZeneca recently announced that its trial is resuming as scheduled.

Aside from developing a COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca also has a robust portfolio consisting of new medicines, oncological treatments, and therapies for cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, metabolic, and autoimmune diseases. In the first half of 2020, the company generated $12.359 billion in revenue and reported $2.01 in adjusted earnings per share, with 14% and 26% annual growth, respectively.

Trading at 5.5 times price-to-sales and 65.5 times price-to-earnings (GAAP), AstraZeneca is rather expensive. But I believe that investors are getting a lot for the price considering the company's substantial growth profile. As a bonus, AstraZeneca pays a dividend yield of 2.61% per year to its shareholders. 

Bags labeled risk and reward on a basic balance scale in equal position.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Gilead Sciences 

Should neither of these companies' vaccines make it to regulatory approval, then Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.01%) would have investors' backs, as demand for its coronavirus treatment drug remdesivir would likely increase. Remdesivir received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May after the drug demonstrated its benefits in clinical recovery and lowering mortality risk in critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Since then, Gilead has been ramping up production of remdesivir and is on its way to manufacturing 2 million treatment courses (or 12 million vials) by the end of the year. Each vial comes with a hefty price tag of $390 to $520. Remdesivir is not the only future catalyst for Gilead's revenue growth, however; the company has over 40 clinical programs in its pipeline under development.

On Sept. 13, Gilead announced it would expand its oncology portfolio by acquiring Immunomedics (IMMU) for $21 billion. Immunomedics is known for Trodelvy, an FDA-approved treatment for a type of breast cancer that does not respond well to conventional therapies and can spread to other parts of the body. The drug is expected to generate $1.44 billion in annual revenue by the end of 2024. 

Since 2011, Gilead's HIV drug franchise has generated 12% growth per year and has ballooned to $8.134 billion in the first half of 2020. For the full year, the company expects to bring in $24 billion in sales, boast 87% gross margin, and to report up to $7.65 in earnings per share. Not only does the stock have a dividend yield of 4%, but it is also trading for just 3.7 times sales and 19.2 times earnings, making it an ideal choice for biotech investors