Key Points

  • So far, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are the only leaders in the vaccine race to have signed supply deals with the European Commission.
  • AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax each have supply agreements with the U.S.
  • AstraZeneca, at 3 billion doses, has the most capacity so far.

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Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and others in the coronavirus vaccine race are approaching the finish line. This week, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) reported positive interim efficacy data from their phase 3 trial. Moderna and the Pfizer team have each said they expect phase 3 safety data this month, after which they will apply for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

Well before now, however, clues were emerging about which companies may become the biggest vaccine suppliers. Months ago, pharmaceutical companies and biotech rivals began announcing agreements to supply organizations and countries with doses, following vaccine approvals. Let's take a look at where things stand today for some of the most significant participants in this race.

A researcher injects a globe with a dose of vaccine.

Image source: Getty Images.

3 billion doses

If we look at numbers alone, AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) is set to supply more vaccine doses so far than its peers. The big-pharma player expects to produce nearly 3 billion doses by the end of 2021. Among AstraZeneca's largest deals are ones with the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. government offered as much as $1.2 billion in support of AstraZeneca's program in exchange for 300 million vaccine doses. And under an agreement with the European Commission, members of the European Union will have access to 400 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine.

But keep in mind that AstraZeneca has pledged to provide its vaccine globally without taking a profit during the pandemic. The funds it receives from supply agreements will compensate the company for its own investment in the vaccine program. Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) -- another main player -- haven't taken the no-profit pledge.

It's impossible to calculate exactly how many doses companies will produce based on contracts announced so far. Some agreements are licensing deals, allowing another company to take over production and sales of a vaccine; that company then offers the vaccine developer milestone payments and a percentage of the vaccine's sales. Other agreements don't reveal how many doses were ordered.

In the lead

So, as we look at Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax, let's first consider agreements that provide numbers of vaccine doses to be supplied. Novavax has received orders for a minimum of 276 million doses to supply the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Moderna's orders from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and Switzerland total about 175 million doses. And Pfizer's agreements include 450 million doses for the U.S., the EU, Japan, and the U.K. At this point, Pfizer is in the lead.

As for the less specific agreements, here's how they add to our count: Novavax has licensed its vaccine candidate to Takeda Pharmaceutical (NYSE:TAK) for commercialization in Japan, and to the Serum Institute of India for commercialization in India and in low- and middle-income countries. The company also won a deal to supply South Korea in collaboration with a local company.

Israel ordered an unspecified number of doses from Moderna, and Canada ordered an unspecified number of doses from Pfizer.

One more clue will help us determine which company might become a supply leader: capacity. Novavax is ramping up to deliver more than 2 billion doses by the middle of next year. Pfizer says it can deliver 1.3 billion by the end of next year, and Moderna plans to deliver between 500 million and 1 billion doses by then.

What does all of this tell us?

AstraZeneca initially may be the biggest supplier, considering its capacity and its vow to make vaccine doses available at no profit during the pandemic. Pfizer's strength is the number of orders it has received so far. And Novavax's capacity shows it has what it takes to become a major supplier down the road.

Of course, all of this is dependent on the outcome of each company's coronavirus vaccine program. Right now, the players mentioned here are testing their vaccine candidates in phase 3 trials. If one of the companies' efforts fails, its supply agreements will be void.

And supply deals are a moving target; more can come along at any moment. Investors should keep an eye on this element. It will be crucial in determining which companies will eventually profit from vaccine sales in the long term.

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.