The euphoria surrounding last week's news about tremendous efficacy results for the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX 0.56%) didn't last long. On Monday, Moderna (MRNA -1.23%) upped the ante with even better results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273.
Unsurprisingly, Pfizer stock slipped on Moderna's positive report. Is the big pharma still a smart coronavirus stock to buy after Moderna's great vaccine news?
Leaving Pfizer in the cold?
It's important to keep in mind that both Pfizer and Moderna still have hurdles to clear, such as obtaining emergency use authorization (EUA) for their respective COVID-19 vaccines from the Food and Drug Administration. However, the odds of winning EUA look very good for both drugmakers.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced an efficacy rate of at least 90% for their coronavirus vaccine candidate BNT162b2. Moderna reported 94.5% efficacy for mRNA-1273. Those numbers could change a little as more data becomes available, but the two vaccines appear to match up closely based on efficacy.
Moderna could have a key advantage on the logistical front. Moderna developed a new formulation for mRNA-1273 that allows it to be stored at temperatures between 36 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 days versus its initial expected shelf life of seven days. The vaccine can be shipped and stored for up to six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that standard refrigerators and freezers can be used with mRNA-1273.
By comparison, Pfizer's BNT162b2 must be shipped and stored at the ultracold temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. It only remains stable in a standard fridge for 24 hours. The storage requirement difference could make Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine much more attractive to pharmacy chains and healthcare providers.
What didn't change for Pfizer
Moderna's results for mRNA-1273 combined with its improved shelf life changed the outlook for Pfizer's BNT162b2. Several factors remain unchanged for Pfizer, though.
First and foremost, Pfizer still has supply deals for BNT162b2 with countries across the world. The U.S. committed to buying at least 100 million doses and potentially up to 600 million doses. The European Union will purchase 200 million doses if BNT162b2 wins regulatory approval. Japan plans to buy 120 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. The U.K. will purchase 30 million doses. Pfizer and BioNTech also have a supply agreement with Canada, details of which aren't available.
If you sum up all those numbers, Pfizer has commitments in hand for a minimum of 450 million doses of BNT162b2 next year. Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses globally in 2021. Moderna currently anticipates producing around 500 million doses of mRNA-1273, but has stated the number could possibly increase to 1 billion doses. The main takeaway is that Moderna's logistical advantage won't hurt Pfizer all that much in the near term.
Pfizer's efforts to overcome the current ultracold requirements for BNT162b2 also didn't change. The big drugmaker was already working on a powder version of its COVID-19 vaccine that could be refrigerated before Moderna's news came out this week. Pfizer thinks this powder version could potentially be available in 2021.
Why Pfizer is still a good fit for some investors
Even if BNT162b2 didn't have any logistical hurdles, some investors wouldn't find Pfizer all that attractive. The big pharma stock isn't likely to deliver the sizzling growth that some other stocks will over the next few years.
However, I think that Pfizer is still a good pick for many investors. With its Upjohn business now spun off, the company should return to delivering solid revenue growth. BNT162b2 seems likely to turbocharge that growth. Pfizer also continues to offer an outstanding dividend. Investors who aren't seeking aggressive growth should find a lot to like about Pfizer, even if Moderna ends up being the bigger coronavirus vaccine winner.