The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world. There have been more than 30 million cases of the disease, and it has caused nearly a million deaths. Given these factors, it's not surprising that investors have poured money into companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine. A safe and effective method of preventing the disease will arguably be critical for life to go back to some semblance of normalcy. 

Those companies that manage to launch working vaccines on the market will almost certainly reap substantial financial benefits. With that said, there are more than a dozen companies currently working on vaccine candidates, and it may be difficult for investors to separate the wheat from the chaff. For those looking to profit from this race, Pfizer (PFE 1.59%) is my top coronavirus stock to invest in. Here's why. 

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A leader in the COVID-19 race

Along with its partner BioNTech (BNTX -2.45%), Pfizer has raced through the early stages of the development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The two companies started a phase 2/3 clinical trial for their leading candidate, BNT162b2, in late July. Note that the collaboration did have other candidates, including BNT162b1, which received the fast-track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with BNT162b2.

However, Pfizer and BioNTech opted to go with the latter because it delivered better results in early testing stages. The phase 2/3 trial they are currently running will enroll up to 44,000 participants, and its primary endpoints will be the prevention of COVID-19 in patients who have not been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease, and prevention of COVID-19 regardless of previous infection status.

Nurse holding a test tube filled with blood for coronavirus testing.

Image source: Getty Images.

Pfizer thinks it will know whether its vaccine is effective by the end of October. If it is, the company will immediately send it to the regulatory authorities for review. Note that Pfizer has already lined up several buyers, including the governments of the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Japan. Pfizer could end up delivering millions of doses of its candidate over the next year. All things considered, the pharma giant and its partner, BioNTech, look like strong contenders in this race. 

A strong biopharma business

Pfizer is in the middle of spinning off its Upjohn unit -- which focuses on manufacturing and distributing generic drugs -- to Mylan (MYL); the transaction should be complete by the end of the year. This move could work wonders for Pfizer. During its second quarter, which ended June 28, the company's revenue dropped by 11% to $11.8 billion. However, the decline was primarily due to its Upjohn segment, whose sales decreased by 31% to $2 billion. Upjohn's sales plunged in part due to competitive pressure for the pain medicine Lyrica.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's biopharma segment (soon to be its only business) recorded revenue of $9.8 billion, representing a 4% year-over-year increase. Some of the company's best-selling products in this segment include anticoagulant Eliquis, whose sales during the second quarter jumped by 17% year over year to $1.3 billion. There's also cancer drug Ibrance, whose revenue for the quarter grew by 7% to $1.3 billion. Further, Pfizer is currently running more than 80 clinical trials, and investors can rest assured that it will keep adding new sources of revenue to its lineup.

A solid dividend 

Pfizer is also an attractive stock for dividend-seeking investors. The company currently offers a dividend yield of 4.17%, which compares favorably to the 1.7% average yield of the S&P 500. Pfizer has raised its dividends by 35.7% over the past five years, and it sports a reasonable cash payout ratio of 65.2%. While many companies have slashed or outright suspended their dividend payments amid the coronavirus pandemic, this pharma giant is unlikely to do so.

The key takeaway

Pfizer is widely regarded as one of the leaders in the COVID-19 vaccine race. The company could generate healthy revenue from its efforts over the next year if its candidate proves successful. But even if it doesn't, Pfizer has other things going its way, specifically its strong biopharma business. Pfizer is also a strong dividend-paying stock, and it currently trades at just 12.7 times expected earnings, while its price-to-earnings growth ratio is a reasonable 0.95. Investors looking for exposure to companies working on COVID-19 vaccines would do well to buy shares of this pharma stock.