You don't have to try very hard to find reasons to avoid shares of Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA). Sure, the company reported great efficacy results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate last week, but its market cap of close to $40 billion already factors in a lot of growth.
With the biotech stock more than quintupling in value so far this year, it's understandable that some investors might want to stay away from Moderna. However, there's a bigger story to keep in mind. While there are certainly some reasons to steer clear of Moderna, there are also at least 330 million reasons to buy the stock right now.
A climbing count
That 330 million figure reflects the total number of doses in supply deals that Moderna has lined up so far or is close to securing for coronavirus vaccine mRNA-1273. The biggest deal of all was announced by Moderna just this week: an agreement with the European Commission to supply 160 million doses of mRNA-1273.
Prior to this week, Moderna's largest supply agreement was with the U.S. government, which agreed to buy 100 million doses if mRNA-1273 wins emergency use authorization (EUA). The company signed another huge deal with Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and Takeda Pharmaceutical in late October. This agreement provides for the purchase and distribution in Japan of 50 million doses of mRNA-1273. Canada plans to buy 20 million doses of Moderna's COVID vaccine assuming it wins regulatory approval in the country.
These four confirmed deals bring Moderna's supply total up to 330 million doses. However, the biotech has several other smaller deals in place as well with Switzerland, Israel, and Qatar. In addition, Moderna signed an agreement with the U.K. to supply an undisclosed number of doses of mRNA-1273.
It's also important to remember that some of these countries could increase their orders. For example, the U.S. government reserved the option to buy up to 400 million additional doses from Moderna.
Why it matters so much
Doesn't the impressive jump in Moderna's share price already reflect these supply agreements? Yes, to some extent. However, I don't think investors have yet fully appreciated what the impact for Moderna will be.
The company hasn't announced financial details for all of its supply deals. If we assume that Moderna will make $20 per dose on average, it could be sitting atop purchase orders worth at least $6.6 billion. You could argue that Moderna's market cap of near $40 billion seems to fully bake in potential sales in that ballpark. It doesn't account, though, for the additional value Moderna could unlock with a boatload of cash at its disposal.
CEO Stephane Bancel has hinted that Moderna could move up to 50 vaccine and drug candidates into clinical testing. All of them would use the messenger RNA (mRNA) approach that appears to be working very well with mRNA-1273. Moderna's pipeline already includes 12 mRNA programs in clinical studies.
The company has always believed that if its mRNA technology was effective in one disease, it could be effective in targeting lots of others. Moderna's supply deals could soon give it enough money to confirm that premise in a major way.
Just targeting viral diseases would give the company an enormous growth runway. However, Moderna's mRNA platform isn't just limited to antiviral vaccine candidates. The biotech is also developing cancer vaccines and mRNA therapies targeting coronary artery disease. With more cash in its coffers, Moderna could expand its focus to include more potentially lucrative indications.
Moderna's success isn't a slam dunk. The company still faces plenty of risks.
EUA for mRNA-1273 isn't guaranteed. Even if mRNA-1273 wins EUA in the U.S. and key approvals in other countries, single-dose COVID vaccines could be more attractive down the road. It's also quite possible that Moderna's mRNA approach won't be as effective in immunizing against other viruses or in treating other conditions.
Moderna isn't the kind of stock that will be attractive for all investors. For those willing to accept some risks, though, this biotech stock could still be a big winner.