Some stocks stand out from the pack due to their growth prospects. That's true in any industry, but it's especially applicable for biotech.
We asked three Motley Fool contributors which biotech stocks they think are great picks to buy hand over fist right now. Here's why they chose Moderna (MRNA 0.48%), Novavax (NVAX -1.96%), and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 0.19%).
Full speed ahead
Zhiyuan Sun (Moderna): In my view, now's the time for investors who missed out on Moderna's spectacular gain over the past year to get into the stock. The stock is still cheap, trading at 13 times earnings.
But valuation alone isn't the reason to buy this stock. Instead, the most exciting development is that due to a combination of external circumstances, good corporate management, and the efficacy of its coronavirus vaccine, Moderna could very well continue its impressive growth in the future.
The rise of deadly mutated strains like the delta and lambda variants appears to have caused vaccine efficacy to wane. For example, the Moderna vaccine demonstrated a huge variance in efficacy when combating the delta variant, ranging anywhere from 50% to 95%. The rise of breakthrough cases could mean that booster shots are needed.
Moderna is already on track to supply 1 billion doses of its vaccine this year, with an additional 3 billion by the end of 2022. But as the coronavirus becomes endemic, there's a good chance that the company could supply billions of doses per year more starting in 2023.
And it's not just supplying annual booster shots in developed countries. Developing countries that can't afford bulk purchases are getting hundreds of millions of doses from developed ones purchased right from manufacturers like Moderna. It's a necessary step to stop the virus from mutating and reopen international travel.
So it's all very good news for Moderna. Not only can it keep the pandemic under control with a safe and effective shot, but the company also sells it at a pretty low price. Even with this relatively low price, Moderna made a profit margin of 63.8% in the second quarter of 2021. That's pretty amazing, considering most biotechs generate a much lower margin. Moreover, while Moderna is a great stock for the strength of its vaccine alone, it also has promising candidates in its oncology pipeline.
The sky is the limit for this soaring biotech
Prosper Junior Bakiny (Novavax): Shares of Novavax have skyrocketed close to 5,700% since the beginning of 2020. The stock still has a long runway for growth.
Novavax's coronavirus vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, is primarily responsible for its recent run. In a phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the U.S. and Mexico, the experimental vaccine proved 90.4% effective at preventing COVID-19. Its efficacy against moderate and severe cases of the disease was 100%.
NVX-CoV2373 has yet to earn Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S., but leading health authorities in the country recently issued guidance stating that participants inoculated with the vaccine as part of Novavax's phase 3 clinical study should be considered fully vaccinated. That's a noteworthy endorsement, but it doesn't stop there. Novavax has signed agreements with various governments worldwide to supply them with millions of doses of NVX-CoV2373.
The company has filed or plans to soon file for EUA in India, the U.K., the European Union, the Philippines, and other countries. I think Novavax is likely to earn authorizations in these jurisdictions.
With the delta variant still spreading, the windfall from NVX-CoV2373 has just begun. Analysts expect the company to generate $1.95 billion in revenue this year and $5.49 billion in 2022.
Novavax also developed NanoFlu, an experimental flu vaccine for adults 65 and older. This demographic makes up the bulk of hospitalizations and deaths from the flu every year. In a phase 3 clinical trial, NanoFlu proved more effective than a leading flu vaccine. Once approved, NanoFlu could generate well over $1 billion in peak annual sales.
The company is also looking to develop vaccines that go after multiple pathogens. It recently started a phase 1/2 clinical trial for a combination vaccine for the flu and COVID-19. This candidate could become highly popular if approved -- why make two trips to the doctor's office to receive two different vaccines when just one will do?
Novavax has several other pipeline candidates. With multiple catalysts on the way, the biotech looks set to continue its winning ways for many years to come.
A strong moat and multiple paths to grow
Keith Speights (Vertex Pharmaceuticals): I think Vertex ranks as one of the best healthcare stocks to buy right now for two key reasons. First, the company has an exceptionally strong moat. Second, it has multiple paths to grow.
Vertex's moat is its cystic fibrosis franchise. The company currently markets four drugs that treat the underlying cause of the rare genetic disease. And they're the only therapies on the market that do so.
There are other cystic fibrosis drugs in development. However, none of them have advanced beyond phase 2 clinical studies. Actually, the leading candidate belongs to Vertex itself.
The big biotech should be able to deliver solid growth with only its cystic fibrosis franchise. Vertex estimates that around 83,000 people in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia have cystic fibrosis. More than 30,000 of these individuals could potentially be helped by the company's drugs but aren't being treated yet.
But Vertex also has its sights set on other indications. The company and its partner CRISPR Therapeutics hope to file for regulatory approval by the second half of 2023 for a gene therapy targeting rare genetic blood disorders beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease.
Vertex's pipeline also includes two other programs in phase 2 testing. In addition, the company has a large and growing cash stockpile that it will likely put to use in further bolstering its pipeline.
It's possible that Vertex could experience clinical setbacks. However, all the company needs is one or two pipeline successes to be a big winner for investors over the next decade and beyond.