Moderna (MRNA -1.66%) has spent the past two months producing and shipping its much-awaited coronavirus vaccine. But we won't see too much of an impact from its vaccine successes in its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report. That's because Moderna began distribution only a couple of weeks before the end of that reporting period. The biotech company in a Jan. 4 update said it had at that point delivered 18 million doses to the U.S. government. At a price of $15 a dose, that represents $270 million in sales. That's only a small portion of the billions of dollars in sales expected over a full quarter.
Still, there are plenty of things I'll be looking for in Moderna's Feb. 25 report. Here are just a few that investors should also keep an eye out for.
1. COVID booster shot candidates
One of the biggest risks ahead for vaccine makers is the prevalence of new coronavirus variants. To tackle this, Moderna is investigating two booster candidates. The first is actually a third dose of vaccine. The idea behind it is that this third dose would increase neutralizing antibody levels to better fend off new strains. The second candidate is a strain-specific booster. Moderna is designing it to target the South African strain. But if it's successful, the company should be able to quickly adapt it to protect against future strains.
In late January, Moderna said it was moving the strain-specific booster into preclinical and phase 1 trials. It will be interesting to see whether Moderna offers a more detailed timeline -- or a plan of how these potential boosters would fit into the current vaccination regimen.
2. Customer deposits for vaccine orders
In a Jan. 11 update, Moderna said it had signed advance purchase agreements for vaccines to be delivered this year. They represent $11.7 billion in revenue. Since then, Moderna has reported additional orders. For example, the European Commission ordered an additional 150 million doses this month. Moderna aims to deliver those in the third and fourth quarters of this year.
Also this month, the U.S. increased its order by 100 million doses. Moderna plans to supply these doses by the end of July. Canada and Switzerland also ordered more doses of the Moderna vaccine in recent weeks. It's possible Moderna will provide an update about how much all these orders represent in terms of revenue. And that brings me to my next point.
3. Full-year earnings estimates
At this point, as revenue starts to come in and orders are being signed, Moderna may offer investors earnings estimates. So far, earnings per share estimates for the full year surpass $12. That's significant for a company that's reported losses year after year and is earning revenue from product sales for the first time ever with its coronavirus vaccine.
If Moderna doesn't provide estimates this time around, we'll want to be on the lookout for this metric in the next report.
4. Clinical study of the COVID vaccine in teenagers
In early December, Moderna began a phase 2/3 trial of its vaccine in people ages 12 through 17. The company aims to report data this spring and earn Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for this indication in time for the September back-to-school period.
But as of last month, Moderna hadn't found enough adolescent volunteers. Moncef Slaoui, head of the Trump administration's effort to shepherd a vaccine to market, said at the time that the trial had brought on only 800 volunteers per month. Moderna aims to include 3,000 participants in the trial.
Teens aren't at the greatest risk for serious coronavirus illness. But, just like adults, they do play a role in the transmission of the virus. So vaccination in this group is another element that may help stop the pandemic. I'll be on the lookout for any updates about trial recruitment and timing regarding this study when Moderna reports earnings.
Keep your eyes open
As you can see, my attention during next week's report will be focused more on what's to come than on any actual sales the biotech company may have generated in the first few weeks of vaccine rollout.
Success with a booster shot to handle new strains and a teen vaccine, for example, can result in significant revenue opportunities. A more clearly painted picture of future earnings will also be key in considering whether to add to or initiate a position. With these clues, we'll be able to better predict Moderna's future in the billion-dollar coronavirus vaccine market.