Neither BioNTech (BNTX -2.07%) nor Vir Biotechnology (VIR -0.94%) has become a household name in the U.S. They might never reach that status, but both could be very important for many American households in the not-too-distant future.

The two biotechs each have promising COVID-19 programs in development. But which of these coronavirus-focused stocks is the better pick for investors?

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Image source: Getty Images.

The case for BioNTech

There's a pretty strong argument to be made that the coronavirus vaccine candidate that BioNTech and its partner Pfizer (PFE 0.66%) are developing is the leader right now. Bill Gates seems to think so.

BioNTech and Pfizer are currently evaluating BNT162b2 in a pivotal late-stage clinical study. The companies anticipate that they'll be able to report preliminary results by the end of next month. At this point, BNT162b2 looks like the odds-on favorite to become the first coronavirus vaccine to win Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.

If BNT162b2 is successful in late-stage testing, BioNTech stands to make a lot of money. It and Pfizer have already lined up a deal to supply at least 100 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S. and potentially up to 600 million doses. The partners also inked supply agreements with Canada and Japan. BioNTech and Fosun Pharma could also supply 10 million doses to Hong Kong and Macao.

Success for BNT162b2 could also bode well for the rest of BioNTech's messenger RNA (mRNA) pipeline candidates. The biotech and its partner Roche Holdings are evaluating mRNA therapy BNT122 in phase 2 testing as a potential first-line treatment for melanoma. The companies are also evaluating BNT122 in a phase 1 clinical study for treating other solid tumors. In addition, BioNTech's pipeline includes six other early-stage mRNA candidates targeting various types of cancer.

BioNTech isn't solely focused on mRNA technology, though. The company also has three antibody therapies in early-stage clinical testing for treating solid tumors and pancreatic cancer. It's partnering with Genmab on two of those programs. 

The case for Vir Biotechnology

Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK -0.07%) recently launched a phase 2/3 clinical study evaluating antibody therapy VIR-7831 in the early treatment of COVID-19 patients. The drugmakers think that initial results from the study could be announced before the end of 2020. If all goes well, VIR-7831 could be available to patients through early-access programs as soon as the first half of next year.

Vir and GSK are also evaluating VIR-7831 in pre-clinical testing as a later-stage treatment of COVID-19 and as a prophylaxis to prevent viral infection. The two partners are working together on pre-clinical studies of another antibody therapy targeting COVID-19 as well.

GSK isn't Vir's only partner. The biotech teamed up with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals on several pipeline candidates. One of those is a novel coronavirus antibody therapy that's in pre-clinical trials. Vir and Alnylam are also evaluating VIR-2218 in two phase 2 clinical studies for treating hepatitis B. 

In addition to its partnered programs, Vir's pipeline includes a couple of candidates in early-stage clinical testing. VIR-3434 is an experimental antibody therapy targeting the hepatitis B virus. VIR-2482 is monoclonal antibody therapy that the company hopes could be used to prevent infection by the influenza A virus.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is collaborating with Vir on two pre-clinical programs, one targeting the prevention of HIV infection and the other targeting the prevention of tuberculosis infection. The nonprofit foundation also was one of the lead investors in Vir when the company started operations nearly three years ago.

Better coronavirus stock?

Vir Biotechnology has a much lower market cap than BioNTech does. But that makes sense, considering that BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine candidate is further along in clinical testing.

My view is that BioNTech is the better pick between these two coronavirus-focused biotech stocks. I expect that the company, along with Pfizer, will be big winners in the COVID-19 vaccine market. I also think that success for BNT162b2 will increase investors' appreciation of the rest of BioNTech's pipeline candidates. Both of these stocks are still risky, but aggressive investors might want to take a hard look at BioNTech.