Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Vaxart Has 3 Advantages Over Pfizer and Moderna

By Adria Cimino - May 6, 2021 at 5:00AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Its coronavirus vaccine candidate may stand out, if upcoming trials are successful.

Things were looking gloomy for Vaxart (VXRT -3.72%) a few months ago. The clinical-stage biotech company reported that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate didn't produce neutralizing antibodies in a phase 1 trial. These antibodies are considered key since their role is to fight infection. As a result, Vaxart's shares tumbled 58% in one trading session.

But all is not lost. This week, the company shared details of its studies and its development plans. Vaxart's investigational vaccine works in a different manner than those of market leaders Pfizer (PFE -1.40%) and Moderna (MRNA -5.06%). And it may even offer some advantages. Let's look at three of them.

A young woman takes a pill with a glass of water.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. It's a pill

Here's why Vaxart has intrigued investors from the start. The company is developing an oral coronavirus vaccine. It's a tablet to be taken with a glass of water -- as simple as taking a common pain reliever.

It's clear that if such a candidate is successful, it could win over many individuals -- even some who have refused vaccination so far. A Quadrant Strategies poll commissioned by Vaxart confirmed that: About a third of those who refuse vaccination would give it a go if they could choose a pill, the poll showed.

A pill also would be a game-changer for countries and healthcare systems. It's stable at room temperature so it doesn't require refrigerated transport or storage. This makes it easier to deliver and stock the vaccine anywhere in the world.

2. Higher T cell responses

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines stimulate the body to produce neutralizing antibodies against the coronavirus' spike protein. The spike is used to infect. These antibodies later will protect the vaccinated individual in case of contact with the virus.

Vaxart's candidate doesn't work this way. Instead, it results in strong production of killer T cells. These cells don't completely prevent infection, but they can quickly remove virus from the body. That's because their role is to kill infected cells. And here, Vaxart may have an edge over the market leaders.

Vaxart studied T cell responses in nine volunteers vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. It found the responses were lower than those produced by its investigational vaccine in the phase 1 trial. Scientists say T cells may play an important role in coronavirus immunity. For example, studies have detected T cells reactive to severe acute respiratory syndrome in former patients 17 years post-infection.

So there is evidence T cells could provide lasting immunity. Of course, Vaxart's later-stage trials must confirm the ability of these cells to quickly clear infection, before illness takes hold.

3. Targeting strains

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have demonstrated ability to handle new strains so far. That's because mutations to the spike protein have been limited. But if mutations increase, effectiveness could decrease. Both companies are working on boosters to handle the potential problem.

Vaxart may not have to worry about new strains. Its candidate doesn't target the spike protein only. Instead, it targets both the spike protein and the nucleocapsid, or "N" protein -- that protein is involved in viral replication. Targeting both broadens the vaccine's ability to protect, especially if the spike mutates.

"The strength of T-cell responses against both S and N proteins, which we targeted, leads us to believe that VXA-CoV2-1 offers a promising solution to variants," said Dr. Sean Tucker, Vaxart chief scientific officer.

Now what's the plan?

Vaxart aims to advance its coronavirus vaccine candidate into a phase 2 trial by the middle of this year. The company also will test two candidates targeting the spike protein only and focusing on specific variants. Those will enter phase 1/2 studies in the third quarter. And Vaxart also plans on testing its candidates as boosters in individuals who already have been vaccinated with an authorized vaccine. That should happen in the second half.

If one of Vaxart's candidates is successful, the biotech company clearly will be a latecomer to the coronavirus vaccine market. That means it has to stand out if it hopes to gain market share. The advantages highlighted above show Vaxart may have what it takes to carve out a spot in this competitive market in the future.

Still, risk is high -- at least until we see efficacy data from the phase 2 trial or the booster trials. Vaxart's potential product works differently than more-advanced rivals. So we can't look to others for clues about whether its candidate might work. All of this means Vaxart is definitely a stock to watch, but only the most aggressive investors should consider buying it right now.

Adria Cimino has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Moderna Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Vaxart, Inc. Stock Quote
Vaxart, Inc.
VXRT
$3.88 (-3.72%) $0.15
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
PFE
$48.58 (-1.40%) $0.69
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
MRNA
$150.00 (-5.06%) $-8.00

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
394%
 
S&P 500 Returns
127%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/19/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.