Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) has given investors a bumpy ride this year. It slid 42% from a high, after falling behind on regulatory submissions for its coronavirus vaccine candidate. But the biotech stock may be on its way up. The company recently completed regulatory submissions to several countries and the European Union. A submission in the U.S. should happen before the end of the year.

And Novavax has even scored two authorizations -- in Indonesia and the Philippines -- so sales may start rolling in soon. The company also is working on a way to make itself a top player in a post-pandemic world.

With all of this good news for both the near term and the long term, it's time to think about Novavax's growth potential. Could this vaccine company climb enough in value to be worth as much as bigger rival Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA)? Let's find out.

A person in business dress points to something on a computer to show a colleague or client.

Image source: Getty Images.

A decision "within weeks"

First, let's take a look at what Novavax has to offer in terms of potential products. The company's main revenue driver in the near term is likely to be its coronavirus vaccine candidate. If all goes smoothly, regulators from various countries and regions soon may decide on whether to authorize it for use. The European Union may issue a decision "within weeks," according to Reuters. Novavax already has signed a deal to deliver as many as 200 million doses to the region.

Earlier this year, Novavax said it expected billions of dollars in revenue to start flowing in within four to six quarters; it was referring to the period post-authorization. It's important to keep in mind that Novavax is a latecomer to the vaccine market. The company won't easily take massive market share from market leaders Pfizer and Moderna.

But opportunity remains. First, Novavax's candidate works differently than the leaders' mRNA vaccines. That may make it an option for people looking for alternatives. Second, it may be used as part of vaccine mixing and matching. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized the practice of boosting people with a shot that's different from their primary series. So, if you already received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, for example, you may opt for a Novavax shot as a booster -- assuming the Novavax candidate wins authorization.

And opportunity outside of the U.S. may be even greater. Many areas still lack vaccines. Novavax may be able to help solve this problem.

A look into the future

Now, let's explore the future. Two potential products could significantly add to revenue: an eventual flu vaccine and a combined flu/COVID vaccine. Novavax's flu candidate is called NanoFlu, and the investigational vaccine met all primary endpoints in a pivotal trial. The next step is a regulatory submission.

The other candidate is a combination of NanoFlu with Novavax's coronavirus vaccine candidate. The company has a big advantage when it comes to bringing such a product to market: the fact that NanoFlu already has proven itself in clinical trials. While Moderna also is working on a combined candidate, Novavax is farther ahead from a timeline perspective too. Novavax recently completed enrollment in a phase 1/2 trial; Moderna's candidate is still in preclinical development.

Finally, let's look at today's market value and growth potential. Novavax surely has room to grow. And in the near to medium term, it may be able to double or triple from today's level much more easily than bigger player Moderna:

NVAX Market Cap Chart

NVAX Market Cap data by YCharts.

But even if we look as far ahead as 2025, it seems unlikely Novavax's market value will reach that of Moderna. To reach Moderna's current market cap, Novavax stock would have to climb to $1,300 per share (based on the current number of shares outstanding). That would be an increase of more than 600% from today's level.

A few steps behind

We've seen Novavax make a bigger jump. Last year, it soared 2,700%. But as a company gets bigger, it's more difficult to make such extreme moves. At the same time, Moderna is likely to grow too -- so it may always remain a few steps ahead in terms of size.

This doesn't mean Novavax will stagnate, though. Far from it: In the near term, news of potential vaccine authorizations should drive its shares and market value higher. And an eventual combined product could make Novavax a key vaccine player down the road. So even if Novavax lags behind Moderna when it comes to market cap, it still can add plenty of value to your portfolio.

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.