Surprisingly enough, one of the best performing coronavirus vaccine stocks of the year is Arcturus Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ARCT). If you had invested $10,000 in the San-Diego based biotech last year, that principal would have grown to a stunning $101,000 as of Dec. 4. That kind of return even beats the more than 600% gain on shares of coronavirus vaccine giant Moderna!

As it turns out, Arcturus is also a company that is investigating messenger RNA based coronavirus vaccines. With the stock so high, many who have just heard of the company wonder if now is too late to invest. Today, let's see whether or not shares of this mid-cap biotech can make you rich, and existing investors even richer. 

Stock photo of coronavirus vaccine vial and syringe.

Image Source: Getty Images.

An awesome COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Right now, Arcturus' experimental vaccine LUNAR-COV19 is only in phase 1/2 clinical trials, putting it behind of competitors that already have coronavirus vaccines on the market. However, LUNAR-COV19 is unique in that it is a one-dose mRNA vaccine, unlike Pfizer's two-dose BNT162b2 and Moderna's one-dose mRNA-1273. 

In addition, LUNAR-COV19 comes at significantly lower concentrations than either of the two aforementioned vaccines, making its manufacturing process delivery much easier. Luckily, there is also efficacy data supporting its logistical edge. 

In a phase 1/2 interim data release, there were significant neutralizing antibody and T-cell responses among participants who received LUNAR-COV19. T-cells recognize virus-infected cells and tell those cells to self-destruct, preventing the virus from spreading throughout the body. They can form memories of pathogens for months or years. There were no serious adverse events observed during the study. 

Even though the full data is not out, the results are auspicious considering these results look like both BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 in their phase 1/2 stage. The two messenger RNA coronavirus vaccines would later replicate their success in the early stages and achieve over 90% efficacy in phase 3.

Although Arcturus' vaccine candidate hasn't yet moved into phase 3 testing, it already has the backing from countries who see its potential. Right now, the company has $450 million worth of LUNAR-COV19 pre-orders from the Israeli and Singaporean governments. The company is also well-funded and does not expect to burn through its $300 million cash balance until 2022.

Will the stock's momentum continue?

Luckily, Arcturus stock's rally is far from over as its market capitalization still remains very low, at just $2.7 billion. This is tiny compared to its competitors in similar stages, such as Novavax and CureVac, which are trading between $8 billion to $18 billion. 

Based on the value of its agreement to supply half of Israel with its experimental vaccine, it looks like the company is pricing each dose at around $70. Considering Arcturus contracted firms to produce hundreds of millions of doses for LUNAR-COV19, it has the potential to generate tens of billions in revenue should the vaccine candidate make it to approval. 

Again, since there are already mRNA vaccines against COVID out on the market, it sets a precedent for the company to replicate such success. In this highly likely scenario, Arcturus would begin shipping LUNAR-COV19 by the end of Q1 2021. Again, since the experimental vaccine is single-dose and functions in lower concentrations, manufacturing should be a relative breeze.

For all the reasons above, I find Arcturus a fantastic biotech stock that investors should buy now if they are looking for coronavirus vaccine companies on the cheap. The stock could really make investors rich if LUNAR-COV19 accomplishes success in phase 3 like Pfizer's BNT162b2 or Moderna's mRNA-1273. As an icing on the cake, Arcturus also has an exciting pipeline using mRNA technology to combat influenza, urea disorders, cystic fibrosis, and cardiovascular diseases. 

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.