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Could AstraZeneca's Nasal COVID Vaccine Development Zap Altimmune's Prospects?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - Apr 10, 2021 at 6:04AM

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The short answer: It depends.

Altimmune (ALT -3.76%) began clinical testing of its intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate earlier this year. It now has company. The University of Oxford recently began testing a nasal-spray version of the COVID-19 vaccine that it developed with big drugmaker AstraZeneca (AZN -0.18%). In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on March 31, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss whether or not an intranasal COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca could zap Altimmune's prospects.

Keith Speights: The University of Oxford recently announced that it's testing a nasal spray version of the COVID vaccine that it developed along with AstraZeneca, ticker for AstraZeneca is AZN. This testing has only been done right now in a phase 1 study so it's still really early.

But there's another company, a small biotech Altimmune, ticker there is ALT. Altimmune's also developing a nasal spray COVID vaccine, and began phase 1 testing of that candidate in February. Brian, do you think this Oxford-AstraZeneca effort could put a big damper on Altimmune's prospects for its nasal vaccine candidate?

Brian Orelli: Yeah. It makes sense to develop antibodies through the nose because that's a typical side of infection, and so maybe it will provide additional protection.

Altimmune thinks that its vaccine AdCOVID, they think it might be a single dose vaccine which potentially could be more beneficial than AstraZeneca's, although we don't know whether AstraZeneca's two shots in the arm is going to translate into one burst up the nose. They're both adenovirus-based vaccines so potentially they could have the same relative efficacy.

The difference between Altimmune and AstraZeneca is that AstraZeneca is we know at least it works, we shoot it in the arm, it expresses the coronavirus protein and we get antibodies that way at least. For Altimmune's while we have some pre-clinical data, we don't know exactly whether it'll work when you shoot it up a human's nose.

I'm more on the wait-and-see approach for Altimmune rather than investing now, though I think I'd love to when the market cap is pretty low. If you're investing maybe there's probably more upside potential than downside.

But I don't like to take those bets. I don't mind taking those bets where I feel like there's more upside than downside. I feel like downside might be high, but I want to know what the downside risk is, and I don't feel I have enough information on whether this approach will work to be able to figure out what my risk is and therefore know whether I think it's worth taking the added risk.

Then personally, I'd rather have a shot in the arm than liquids poured up my nose. What about you?

Speights: Probably so, I guess it depends on the efficacy though, right? [Laughs]

Orelli: Yeah.

Speights: If the squirt up the nose gives you a lot more protection from the virus than the shot does then squirt away. But I guess the efficacy is really the determining factor here anyway. I mean, if AstraZeneca's and the University of Oxford's effort ends up being much lower efficacy then Altimune then Altimune doesn't have anything to worry about probably.

Although if I were investing in a clinical-stage biotech like Altimune, I would at least be somewhat worried that a big drugmaker with a global presence that already has a vaccine on the market, at least in Europe, and is now trying to develop a nasal version of that vaccine and is it too far behind in clinical testing, I would be somewhat concerned.

Orelli: I think they are probably going for the variants idea and so eventually we have variants, Altimune will be successful. If we don't have variants or they're not a big issue, then Altimune is going to suffer.

Speights: Right. Neither Brian nor I are making the call on this one who knows who's going to, if any of these companies will win and we don't know which vaccine will end up being better if they're both safe and effective. So we will wait and see from the sidelines on this particular front.

Orelli: I think that's the best strategy for most investors.

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Stocks Mentioned

AstraZeneca PLC Stock Quote
AstraZeneca PLC
AZN
$65.95 (-0.18%) $0.12
Altimmune, Inc. Stock Quote
Altimmune, Inc.
ALT
$11.26 (-3.76%) $0.44

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