Last week, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a move toward a uniform yearly formula for all COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of whether they're used as primary shots or as boosters. Medical experts would choose the target variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID in the late spring or early summer, with the goal of having a new vaccine ready by September.

This means that mRNA-based vaccines like the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech (BNTX -3.95%) and protein-based vaccines like the one developed by Novavax (NVAX -2.43%) would use the same approach, simplifying what has been a confusing process for the public.

Following the news, Novavax's stock rose 5% the next day, Jan. 27, while BioNTech's shares rose 1.7%. Which biotech stock is a better buy right now? Let's find out.

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The case for Novavax

Over the last year, Novavax's shares are down more than 88%. The company's protein-based COVID-19 vaccine, NVX-CoV2373, didn't get emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA until last July, and its booster shot didn't gain approval until October.

However, this year, Novavax gets another bite at the apple. Though it takes longer to develop its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine than competitors do to develop a mRNA vaccine, NVX-CoV2373 it is simpler to make (using nanoparticles of the spike protein in a coronavirus), and can be stored in a refrigerator, while mRNA vaccines must be stored at freezer-level temperatures. It also appears to have fewer severe side effects than mRNA vaccines. Focusing on just a single viral strain also helps Novavax, because patients will be able to receive its booster regardless of whether their earlier shot was from Novavax.

"As expressed by several VRBPAC members, the Novavax protein-based COVID-19 vaccine plays an important role in protecting public health as part of a diverse portfolio," said Silvia Taylor, the company's chief communications officer and an executive vice president, on Jan. 27. "Novavax is prepared to deliver an updated vaccine following FDA guidance on strain change."

Novavax is also developing a combination influenza-COVID vaccine, which could gain broad approval. On Dec. 30, it said it was starting a phase 2 trial to determine dosing safety and effectiveness of different formulations of the combination, as well as stand-alone flu vaccine candidates.

As of Jan. 23, the company also has a new CEO, John Jacobs. He is taking over for Stanley Erck, who announced his retirement on Jan. 9. Jacobs comes over from Harmony Biosciences, a company he led from being a clinical-stage pharmaceutical to a commercial one.

Novavax's revenue is surging. In the third quarter, it reported revenue of $735 million, up 310% year over year, including $626 million from NVX-CoV2373. However, although it's getting closer to profitability, the company is still losing money; it reported a loss of $169 million, or $2.15 per share, compared to a loss of $322 million, or $4.31 per share, in the same period last year.

As of the third quarter, Novavax had $1.3 billion in cash, which should help it fund its pipeline. That contains nine programs, including three vaccines in current phase 3 trials -- a coronavirus vaccine focused on the omicron variant, a seasonal influenza vaccine, and ResVax, to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in infants.

The case for BioNTech

BioNTech's shares are down more than 13% over the past year. Despite its successful COVID-19 vaccine partnership with Pfizer, BioNTech's shares are trading at just slightly more than 3 times earnings.

In the third quarter, BioNTech reported revenue of $3.5 billion, down 43% year over year. It also reported net income of $1.78 million, down 43% over the same period in 2021. That's because the BioNTech and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, first received its EUA from the FDA in December 2020 and then full authorization on Aug. 23, 2021. By getting up and running earlier, it had fewer sales last year by comparison, when COVID cases were down. While its sales are slowing, one advantage BioNTech has is that it's profitable.

BioNTech also has a broader pipeline, with 25 programs, though none are in phase 3 yet. It has also expanded beyond infectious diseases, with mRNA-based therapies to fight advanced melanoma, prostate cancer, head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer, along with therapies aimed at solid tumors. It also has vaccinations in clinical trials against influenza, malaria, and HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes.

The biggest edge BioNTech has over Novavax is development speed. While mRNA treatments often have more side effects, the ability to quickly develop an individualized mRNA treatment for cancer or other diseases provides a huge edge. That advantage, combined with a wider pipeline and $14.5 billion in cash, makes BioNTech a better long-term choice for investors.