You've probably already heard that Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) recently announced the preliminary success of BNT162b2, their joint coronavirus vaccine program. With the world focused on the vaccine race, it's reasonable to suspect that both stocks are no-brainer buys. After all, now that the vaccine is nearly ready to enter mass production, there's no way either company could fail to outperform the market, right?
So far, these expectations haven't been borne out. Both stocks experienced a temporary and beneficial bump after the announcement, which also set off a brief period of exuberant purchasing across the market. But these gains have largely retreated over the following days, compounded by the announcement of Moderna's (NASDAQ:MRNA) better-than-expected vaccine results. It's clear that the vaccine saga isn't over.
What to look for from Pfizer and BioNTech
There are several wrinkles with the vaccine that have implications on stock performance, starting with its safety. So far, there have not been any reports of dangerous side effects associated with BNT162b2. While it's unlikely that serious safety concerns will unexpectedly arise, the market still needs full confirmation that the product is safe in the long-term. Pfizer expects to provide the last bit of safety data needed for the vaccine's regulatory approval as soon as next week.
The next thing to watch is the issue of the cold chain, which for this vaccine candidate has an additional complication beyond the normal requirements of a temperature-controlled vaccine supply chain. Unlike most other vaccines, BNT162b2 must be stored at a consistent temperature of negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit. That's much colder than both your home freezer and also many of the common medication freezers in hospitals and clinics. While most hospitals do have specialized freezers that are cold enough, free space is often limited. The same goes for any vehicles intended for vaccine transport or distribution. So, for any given hospital to store and administer tens of thousands of doses of the vaccine, it may be necessary for them to purchase new infrastructure, which takes time and funds they may not have. Notably, vaccines in development by competitors like Vaxart don't have this restriction, so they would have a significant logistical advantage if they obtain regulatory approval.
This makes the agreements with the U.S. and European Union to supply hundreds of millions of doses look much less appealing than they might be otherwise. Researchers are already working on a different formulation of the inoculation, but details are scarce. If Pfizer announces any updates on how it is making headway against the cold storage issue, it'll be a positive sign for the stock's future.
Are new therapy or vaccine announcements in the works?
Pfizer also recently disclosed that it was working on a new antiviral drug to treat patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 infections. The project, called PF-00835231, is currently in its phase 1 clinical trials, and it will be delivering progress reports throughout the rest of the year and beyond.
Separately, Pfizer's collaboration with BioNTech may soon benefit both companies in the market for influenza vaccines. Now that BioNTech's lipid nanoparticle platform for vaccines appears to be proven in the context of the coronavirus, Pfizer has expressed interest in using the same technology for its influenza inoculations. If it can operationalize the technology in a new disease setting, it may gain a highly lucrative competitive advantage in the vaccine markets of the future, boosting its shareholder value in the process.