With 10 coronavirus vaccine programs in phase 3 trials, it's looking like the race to bring a safe and efficacious vaccine to market is nearing the finish line. Leaders of the pack, including Moderna (MRNA -1.68%) and Pfizer (PFE 0.33%), may even apply for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) later this month. Just this Monday, Pfizer and partner BioNTech (BNTX -0.17%) announced positive interim phase 3 efficacy data, which showed their candidate was more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection. Does all of this mean it's too late to get in on the action or reinforce your positions in some of the vaccine race players? Not at all.
In fact, there are plenty of ways to invest in the coronavirus vaccine race right now -- and benefit well into the future. However, there are some factors to consider before getting started.
What's your investment style?
The first item to consider is your own investment style. Are you an aggressive investor looking for a potentially steep gain? Do you prefer a cautious route, holding a stock that will pay off over the long term? Or do you play it safe but like to take calculated risks from time to time? Answering these questions is imperative before adding stocks to your portfolio. And it's absolutely essential when investing in coronavirus vaccine stocks. Here's why: Though these companies are working toward the same goal -- a vaccine against COVID-19 -- they aren't the same from an investment perspective.
Once you determine how much risk you're willing to take on, it's time to take a closer look at the players. They include big pharma companies and smaller-cap biotechs. As we've seen so far, shares of biotech companies have reacted much more dramatically to coronavirus vaccine news than those of big pharma rivals. Moderna's shares are up over 280% this year, while Pfizer stock has risen only slightly in comparison. In fact, after Pfizer reported interim phase 3 efficacy data, its shares jumped 7% in one trading session -- and Moderna's climbed 10%.
Negative news can produce similar results. For example, when pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZN 0.38%) temporarily halted its vaccine trial due to an unexplained illness in a participant, its shares only fell 2%. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed a partial clinical trial hold on biotech Inovio Pharmaceuticals' (INO -4.51%) planned phase 2/3 trial, the stock sank 28%.
Why such a difference in share reaction? Many clinical-stage biotech companies working on a coronavirus vaccine don't have other products on the market. Right now, they rely on coronavirus vaccine candidates to succeed and generate revenue in the near term. Big pharma companies have many products on the market. That means the success of their coronavirus programs isn't a determining factor of revenue (or share price stability).
Close to commercialization
But the differences don't stop at biotech versus pharmaceutical giant. Some biotech players, such as Novavax (NVAX -2.48%), don't yet have products on the market but do have late-stage programs beyond a coronavirus vaccine candidate. Novavax is preparing to submit NanoFlu, its potential flu vaccine for patients aged 65 and up, for regulatory approval. Other clinical-stage biotech companies aren't as close to commercialization. For instance, Vaxart's (VXRT -0.74%) most advanced program -- also a flu vaccine candidate -- is currently in phase 2 studies.
Funding also makes a difference. Let's continue with the example of Novavax and Vaxart. Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the government's effort to shepherd a coronavirus vaccine to market, granted Novavax $1.6 billion in funding. OWS hasn't awarded Vaxart's program any financial support.
And of course, we should look at the coronavirus vaccine candidate data. In this case, Novavax has reported positive phase 1 data and has started a phase 3 trial. Vaxart has reported positive preclinical data and has launched a phase 1 study.
In this particular example, Novavax represents less risk: It has another potential product close to commercialization, is farther along in the development of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, and the government has offered the company major financial support for its expensive efforts.
So, how should you invest in the vaccine race right now?
If you are an aggressive investor with a tolerance for risk, you might consider positions in Moderna and Novavax. Moderna may be the first or among the first to land an EUA if trial data is positive. If that happens, I expect the shares to head even higher. And more gains may follow with a possible regulatory approval and domestic and international supply deals.
As for Novavax, the big opportunity in its influenza vaccine lies farther down the road. So, if all goes well, there is plenty of time for the shares to climb. The biotech is also exploring a combination flu/COVID-19 vaccine using NanoFlu and its coronavirus vaccine candidate that is currently involved in phase 3 studies.
And if you want to place another bet on innovation, you might take up a position in Vaxart. The company's vaccine candidate is an oral tablet. If the company's method of oral vaccine delivery is successful, it could be a game changer, not only for the prevention of the coronavirus, but of many other diseases too.
But if you are a cautious investor, take a look at larger pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer or AstraZeneca. Over time, both have delivered revenue and share gains.
Considering Pfizer and AstraZeneca's arrays of products on the market and in their pipelines, that pattern is likely to continue. Success in the coronavirus program would just be a bonus.
If you're mainly cautious but can tolerate a bit of risk, you might take a position in a pharmaceutical company as well as a smaller stake in one of the biotech players.
And finally, regardless of your favorite coronavirus company's progress, remember that risk always remains. Failure can occur at any point in a clinical trial. That is why it's best to invest in a company for its entire pipeline or product portfolio. The question to ask yourself is: Would you believe in this company even if its coronavirus vaccine candidate failed? If you answered "yes," then you might have found the right investment for you.