At the beginning of this year, Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ:SRNE) was focused on its pain management drug, resiniferatoxin, as well as its Dimeric Antigen Receptor-T (DAR-T) cell therapy targeting various blood cancers and solid tumors.

But the biotech has made a major pivot into therapies, vaccines, and tests for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

All in

Sorrento's shift into COVID-19 has been quite extensive, including:

  1. Disclosing that it had developed STI-4398, a protein designed to bind and neutralize the novel coronavirus. 

  2. Collaborating with SmartPharm Therapeutics to develop an antibody vaccine for COVID-19.

  3. Licensing STI-4920/CMAB020 from Mabpharm. The bispecific COVID-19 treatment binds to the novel coronavirus at two different spots on the virus.

  4. Starting development of STI-6991, a potential coronavirus vaccine consisting of cells expressing a coronavirus protein.

  5. Establishing a collaboration with the the University of Texas Medical Branch to perform preclinical tests on its COVID-19 therapeutic candidates.

  6. Making its manufacturing facilities available to Celularity to manufacture its CYNK-001 cell therapy for COVID-19.

  7. Partnering with Mount Sinai Health System to test Covi-Shield, an antibody cocktail treatment for COVID-19.

  8. Releasing preclinical data on STI-1499, an antibody capable of blocking infection of the novel coronavirus in laboratory tests.

  9. Producing preclinical data on STI-4398, showing the therapeutic can block infection in laboratory experiments.

  10. Submitting an application for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Covi-Track, a diagnostic to test for antibodies against the novel coronavirus.

  11. Selecting T-VIVA-19 as a coronavirus vaccine. In mice, the vaccine induced antibodies against the novel coronavirus.

  12. Licensing abivertinib from ACEA Therapeutics. The drug was designed to treat cancer, but could also be used to treat COVID-19 because it can dampen the overreaction of the immune system in patients with COVID-19.

  13. Licensing technology from Columbia University for a saliva-based test for COVID-19, which will be marketed under the name Covi-Trace if regulators authorize the test.

  14. Acquiring SmartPharm to gain full access to the partnered COVID-19 program.

  15. Receiving FDA clearance to start a phase 1 clinical trial of STI-1499 in patients with COVID-19.

  16. Releasing additional preclinical data on STI-1499 and disclosing a follow-on antibody, STI-2020, which is 50 fold more potent in laboratory tests. STI-2020 was able to rid hamsters of the novel coronavirus after five days.
  17. Striking a deal with ViralClear Pharmaceuticals to test ViralClear's antiviral merimepodib with Sorrento's neutralizing antibodies in hamsters.
Doctors in protective gear talking to a patient in a mask

Image source: Getty Images.

The one huge reason to be worried

While the breadth of Sorrento's activity is certainly impressive, there's a distinct lack of progression in any individual COVID-19 program.

In a pandemic, time is of the utmost importance. In each segment -- therapies, vaccines, and testing -- there's certainly room for more than one product, but the opportunity will quickly evaporate as the pandemic winds down.

On the treatment front, abivertinib is the furthest along with a phase 2 program, but the clinical trial hasn't started enrolling patients, according to the latest update on clinicaltrials.gov. STI-1499 was given FDA clearance to start enrolling in a phase 1 study a couple of weeks ago, but the study still isn't enrolling patients, either, according to clinicaltrials.gov.

All of the other therapeutics are still in preclinical development, and the COVID-19 opportunity could erode quickly if one or more of the coronavirus vaccines in phase 3 development post data showing their vaccines protect patients.

On the testing front, there are certainly some opportunities for revenue from tests beyond the initial approvals of vaccines, but the timeline isn't clear. Sorrento submitted an EUA application for Covi-Track to the FDA in June, but the company hasn't given an update on the application since then. The saliva-based Covi-Trace offers more potential as a diagnostic test for COVID-19, but Sorrento doesn't appear to have enough data to submit an EUA for the test yet.

Pivot back?

Given how many vaccines and therapeutics are in phase 3 testing, the lack of clinical progress should be a major concern for shareholders.

Sure, going back to being solely focused on resiniferatoxin and its DAR-T programs is certainly an option for Sorrento. But it's likely to come with a substantial change in the biotech's valuation. At the beginning of this year, Sorrento had a market cap of $570 million. That's a long fall from the $2.8 billion valuation it currently sports.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.