You can accurately describe Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) in several ways. A huge winner? Definitely -- Novavax's shares are up over 4,300% since the beginning of 2020. A leader in the COVID-19 vaccine race? Sure: The company could win Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its NVX-CoV2373 vaccine this summer.

There's one description of Novavax, though, that many investors might shy away from. Probably few would refer to the biotech as a value stock. After all, Novavax's market cap is close to $13 billion, with no product even on the market yet. However, there is a case to be made that Novavax actually is a value stock.

Vaccine vial with a dollar sign inside it, a syringe with a hypodermic needle, and another vial on its side labeled SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine

Image source: Getty Images.

A textbook example

A value stock is basically any stock that's priced at a distinct discount compared to its peers. If you look at the numbers, Novavax certainly appears to meet that definition.

We can't use earnings-based valuation metrics with Novavax, because the company doesn't have any earnings. I'm also leery of using any projected earnings figures for the biotech at this point.

However, I'm not so hesitant about assessing Novavax's valuation based on projected sales. The company already has deals in place to supply around 300 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The average analyst's estimate is for Novavax to generate sales of around $4 billion this year and over $4.5 billion next year.

If we assume that Novavax's sales indeed come in at $4 billion in 2021, that would put the stock's forward price-to-sales (P/S) ratio at 3.25. The average P/S multiple for biotech stocks right now is nearly 8.1. Novavax is priced at a distinct discount to its peers, so it's a textbook example of a value stock -- at least based on forward price-to-sales multiples.

One key assumption

There's one key assumption behind this claim, though, that we need to examine. Can Novavax really generate revenue in the ballpark of $4 billion this year?

To hit this mark, the company must first win EUA for its COVID-19 vaccine. I'm confident that it will do so. Novavax reported outstanding interim results from a late-stage study of NVX-CoV2373, with an overall efficacy of 89.3% and efficacy against the prevalent coronavirus strain of 95.6%.

Sure, that study was conducted in the U.K., while Novavax's late-stage study in the U.S. and Mexico hasn't wrapped up yet. However, there's no reason to anticipate that the results from the U.S.-Mexico study will differ significantly from those the company has already reported.

There are already three COVID-19 vaccines on the market in the U.S., though. Could Novavax be too late to the party to be a winner? Again, I'm not worried. The U.S. government has committed to purchasing 100 million doses if NVX-CoV2373 obtains EUA.

Novavax has an even bigger market outside the U.S., with supply agreements for around 200 million doses. It has also committed to partnering with the Serum Institute of India to supply 1.1 billion doses of the vaccine to the COVAX Facility, which has a goal of helping more countries get COVID-19 vaccines.

Question marks about the future

While Novavax's prospects look really good for 2021, its longer-term future remains at least a little murky. It's unclear how much recurring revenue the company will make from NVX-CoV2373 once the pandemic is over.

Still, there are some reasons for optimism. Novavax is already evaluating a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine to see how well it protects against infection by coronavirus variants of concern. It's also developing stand-alone and bivalent vaccine candidates targeting new strains, with plans to begin clinical testing within the next few months.

In addition, Novavax has a promising flu vaccine, NanoFlu, waiting in the wings. The biotech is exploring the potential for a combined flu/COVID-19 vaccine that pairs NanoFlu with NVX-CoV2373.

It's possible that Novavax could be a one-hit wonder, with its COVID-19 vaccine achieving some initial success, then fading away after the pandemic ends. On the other hand, the biotech could be at the threshold of becoming a much bigger player in the global vaccine market. Either way, Novavax probably won't be a value stock for too much longer.

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.