Is now really a good time to buy stocks? The market has been volatile all year, and we are in the middle of the worst recession since The Great Depression. What's more, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. There were over 73,000 reported new cases in the U.S. and almost 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday alone. In turn, the pressure to swiftly develop and commercialize a safe and effective vaccine against the virus is mounting for some of the world's largest pharma and biotech businesses.

With that said, it would be a mistake for investors to focus only on the present negatives. The market will survive in the long run -- it's recovered every single loss in its history -- and it will continue to pay investors who buy shares of companies that perform well. Two stocks that I think are worth buying right now are pharma giants Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN). If you have $1,000 at your disposal, here's why both of these drugmakers would be great additions to your portfolio. 

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Pfizer has a potential catalyst on the way

Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca are frontrunners in the COVID-19 race. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are currently running a phase 2/3 clinical trials for their candidate, BNT162b2. Pfizer's CEO, Albert Bourla, said the companies would know if their vaccine candidate is safe and effective by the end of the month. The company initiated a rolling submission for BNT162b2 to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) earlier in October.

This option will speed up the review process for the vaccine, since it allows a company to submit parts of the data to support a marketing application as it becomes available, instead of submitting all of the data at once. Pfizer and BioNTech have signed deals with several governments to supply millions of doses of BNT162b2, pending regulatory approval. These include the governments of the U.K., the U.S., Japan, and Canada.

Doctor holding a glass vial labeled "COVID-19 vaccine coronavirus."

Image source: Getty Images.

AstraZeneca hit pause, but is almost ready to restart

AstraZeneca is also running late-stage clinical trials for its potential vaccine, AZD1222. The company had to pause its studies in September because one of the participants experienced an unexplained illness, but there is no reason to automatically assume that this incident was caused by the vaccine candidate. AstraZeneca was recently allowed by regulatory authorities to resume its clinical trials, and it has also initiated a rolling submission of AZD1222 in the European Union.

The market for a COVID-19 vaccine drug is quite literally the entire world. If Pfizer and AstraZeneca are among the first to launch their candidates, enthusiastic investors could bid up shares of both companies in the next year. It is, however, worth noting that AstraZeneca said it won't profit from its vaccine during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Pfizer plans to split its profit (and costs) equally with BioNTech.

Beyond COVID-19 

Making a dent in the COVID-19 vaccine market would be great for these pharma giants, but even if their coronavirus-related efforts flop, they have much more going for them.

Let's start with Pfizer, a company that decided to get rid of two underperforming business segments last year. First, in August 2019, it formed a joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline, which combined both companies' consumer healthcare segments. The venture is called GSK Consumer Healthcare, and Pfizer owns a 32% stake.

Second, the drugmaker is in the process of spinning off its off-patent drug unit, Upjohn, to Mylan; the transaction should be complete by the end of the year. Why did Pfizer go through these changes? Bourla said: "When all these actions are complete, Pfizer will be a smaller, more focused, science-based company with a singular focus on innovative pharma. We believe we will be in a position where our pipeline will be able to move the needle even more dramatically in terms of our long-term growth prospects."

Pfizer's biopharma operations continue to perform well. It has several blockbuster drugs, including anticoagulant Eliquis and cancer drug Ibrance. During its second quarter, which ended on June 30, sales of Eliquis jumped by 17% year over year to $1.27 billion, while revenue from Ibrance increased by 7% to $1.34 billion. The company has other drugs whose sales are growing at a good clip, and during its second quarter, its biopharma business' revenue grew by 4% year over year to $9.8 billion.

Doctor giving a thumbs up.

Image source: Getty Images.

Note that the company's total revenue decreased by 11% to $11.8 billion, largely due to Upjohn's declining sales. Pfizer is also running more than 50 clinical trials to add to its rich lineup of medicines. Post-Upjohn, the company should be in a good position to deliver strong financial results. 

Investors can also look forward to AstraZeneca's future. The company's top-selling products include cancer drugs Tagrisso, Imfinzi, and Lynparza. Tagrisso's sales for the second quarter, ending June 30, grew by 32% year over year to $1 billion. Revenue of $492 million from Imfinzi and $419 million from Lynparza increased by 46% and 48% year over year, respectively.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg for the U.K.-based drugmaker. Its total revenue for the second quarter grew by 8% versus last year's second quarter. AstraZeneca also has 166 clinical programs, and it will keep on adding sources of revenue to its already rich lineup.

Why you should consider buying

There are lots of companies working on COVID-19 vaccines, but a lot of them are either clinical-stage biotechs with no products on the market or are far behind the leaders in the race (or both). Pfizer and AstraZeneca don't fall in either of these categories. And while Pfizer will split its profits with its partner equally, given the global market opportunity, the revenue it will generate from its part of the deal should still have a nice effect on its top line.

AstraZeneca won't profit from its COVID-19 vaccine during the outbreak, but the disease won't disappear once the pandemic is declared to be over, and vaccines will still be needed after that. Aside from their COVID-19 efforts, both are well-established pharma giants with plenty of products that generate billions of dollars in sales every year. These factors make Pfizer and AstraZeneca worth buying, particularly for risk-averse investors looking for exposure to stocks of companies working on vaccines for COVID-19.