12 Coronavirus Stocks Racing to the Vaccine

Author: Rachel Warren | October 15, 2020

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Is there an end in sight?

With more than 38 million cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed worldwide, and a current global death toll that surpasses more than 1 million individuals, a future return to normalcy appears to hinge on the development of a safe and effective vaccine. As another flu season draws closer and certain regions are starting to see coronavirus cases spike again, the world’s attention is becoming increasingly fixed on the race to get a vaccine to market.

At the time of this writing, there are more than 40 vaccines being evaluated in various stages of clinical study, while 11 vaccine candidates have made it to late-stage safety and efficacy trials. These 12 coronavirus stocks are some of the most promising leaders in the ongoing vaccine race.

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1. GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) has a prominent position in the race to find a coronavirus cure. The company is using its pandemic adjuvant technology to develop three vaccine candidates in separate partnerships with Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Medicago, and Sanofi. It’s also working on numerous antibody therapies for COVID-19 with Vir Biotechnology.

At the moment, all of GlaxoSmithKline’s coronavirus vaccine candidates are in early-stage human trials. Its vaccines with Clover and Medicago are being studied in separate phase 1 clinical studies, while its COVID-19 vaccine with Sanofi is being tested in a phase 1/2 study. Data from this phase 1/2 study is expected before the end of the year. The GlaxoSmithKline-Sanofi vaccine has already garnered plenty of press, and the companies have inked supply agreements with Canada, the United States as part of the Operation Warp Speed program, and the European Union.

ALSO READ: How to Invest in Coronavirus Vaccine Stocks

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2. AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca’s (NYSE:AZN) COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222, has long been viewed as one of the most promising candidates in the race. The company is developing and studying the vaccine in partnership with the University of Oxford. It was also one of the first to initiate late-stage studies of a coronavirus vaccine.

On Sept. 9, the company announced that all phase 3 studies of AZD1222 had been put on hold, citing “a single event of an unexplained illness that occurred in the UK” portion of the study as the reason for the short-term halt on trials. Following the traditional safety review, phase 3 trials had resumed in most study locations by early October, including in Japan, Brazil, the U.K., India, and South Africa. However, the phase 3 study of AZD1222 in the U.S. has yet to resume. AstraZeneca is also studying a long-acting antibody-based therapy for COVID-19 called AZD7442, which advanced to phase 3 clinical trials on Oct. 9.

AstraZeneca has maintained solid financial performance this year. The company reported a 12% increase in revenue for the first half of 2020. It currently has 166 different projects in its pipeline, including its COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic candidates.

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3. Moderna

Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) is another name that has led the headlines since the coronavirus vaccine race started. Although the company has never brought a vaccine to market, its potential COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, has progressed through clinical trials at record speed. Moderna’s phase 3 study of the drug started on July 27.

Positive interim data from the phase 1 trial of mRNA-1273 showed that older human participants produced neutralizing antibodies at dosage amounts of both 25 micrograms and 100 micrograms and “at levels comparable to those in younger adults.” The ongoing phase 3 trial has enrolled more than 28,000 human subjects, and over 22,000 of those individuals have already been administered their second dose. Moderna’s vaccine has already progressed to regulatory review in Canada, while the European Medicines Agency just gave the company the green light to submit a Marketing Authorization Application for mRNA-1273, a vital first step in bringing the vaccine to market.

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4. Pfizer

Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is working on its COVID-19 vaccine with Germany-based BioNTech. Early data from the phase 1/2 study of the vaccine, which is called BNT162b2, found that the candidate was “well tolerated with mild to moderate adverse events in all age groups.”

BNT162b2 is now being studied in various locations around the world in a phase 3 human trial. So far, about 37,000 subjects have been enrolled in the study with roughly 28,000 individuals already administered both doses of BNT162b2. Pfizer and BioNTech are targeting the production of more than 1 billion doses of BNT162b2 before the close of 2021.

ALSO READ: What's the Outlook for Pfizer Stock?

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5. Vaxart

Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT) is aiming to position itself in a unique corner of the COVID-19 vaccine market. The company’s vaccine candidate, VXA-CoV2-1, is taken orally via tablet instead of the traditional vaccination method of injection. Vaxart is behind some of its competitors in terms of its timeline, having just dosed its first participant in its phase 1 human study on Oct. 13.

According to management, “The Phase 1, open-label, dose-ranging trial...is designed to examine the safety and immunogenicity of two doses of VXA-CoV2-1 in up to 48 healthy adult volunteers aged 18 to 54 years old. Enrollment is expected to be completed by early November 2020, with participants receiving the low or high dose of the VXA-CoV2-1 oral tablet at days 1 and 29.”

Vaxart released positive data from a hamster challenge study of VXA-CoV2-1 on Oct. 14. All of the nonhuman subjects administered a two-dose regimen of VXA-CoV2-1 avoided “systemic weight loss,” a sign that the vaccine elicited a robust immune response against COVID-19.

In the quarter ending on June 30, Vaxart reported that its revenue was up by more than 500% year over year, with net losses totaling $9 million and a cash position of $44.4 million.

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6. CureVac

German company CureVac (NASDAQ:CVAC) is a lesser-known contender in the coronavirus vaccine race, but it's one worth watching nonetheless. The company’s management announced that it had commenced a phase 2a clinical study of its vaccine candidate on Sept 29. The COVID-19 vaccine, CVnCoV, is being studied in a two-dose regimen across 690 human subjects in Panama and Peru.

Subjects are being divided into two age groups -- those between the ages of 18 and 60 and individuals 61 and older. Results about the older subjects in the phase 2a study are slated to be released before the close of Q4. CureVac is a newly public company, having just entered its initial public offering (IPO) on Aug. 14.

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7. Inovio Pharmaceuticals

Inovio (NASDAQ:INO) started out strong in the coronavirus vaccine race but has lagged behind some of the competition in recent months. Its vaccine candidate, INO-4800, is still being studied in a phase 1 human trial. The vaccine is administered by intradermal delivery using Inovio’s proprietary Cellectra device.

Inovio is planning a phase 2/3 trial, which has been put on partial clinical hold by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to outstanding questions posed by the regulatory entity. At this point, the exact timeline for the start of the phase 2/3 study remains a question mark. Inovio has also stated that the start of the phase 2/3 trial is also dependent upon “external funding.” The company has yet to snag the boast-worthy supply contracts that other leading companies working on COVID-19 vaccines have.

On the bright side, interim clinical data from the ongoing phase 1 trial of INO-4800 showed that subjects tolerated the vaccine well with minimal side effects. In addition, “100% (38 out of 38) of trial participants demonstrated overall immunological responses based on binding and neutralizing antibody responses and T cell immune responses.” Noting the very limited size of the cohorts, which consisted of just 40 human subjects in total, further studies on a larger scale are clearly needed to more broadly assess the safety and efficacy of INO-4800.

ALSO READ: Could Inovio Pharmaceuticals Be a Millionaire-Maker Stock?

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8. Arcturus Therapeutics

Arcturus Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ARCT) may not have the star power of its competitors, but this small-cap coronavirus stock is worth a second look. Shares of the company are up by about 387% year to date. Arcturus Therapeutics is partnering with Duke-NUS Medical School to study its vaccine candidate (ARCT-021). The potential vaccine is being evaluated in a phase 1/2 clinical study, which finished dosing its first cohort of subjects on Aug. 11.

Arcturus announced on Oct. 6 that it had entered a manufacturing agreement for ARCT-021 with drug manufacturer Recipharm. The company previously inked supply agreements for the vaccine candidate with both the Israeli Ministry of Health and Singapore. The company hopes to have millions of doses of ARCT-021 manufactured before the year is out.

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9. Novavax

Shares of Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) are up by about 2,400% from the beginning of the year. The hype surrounding its COVID-19 vaccine, NVX-CoV2373, has been a significant factor in the astronomical rise in the company’s share price. The drug produced strong neutralizing antibodies in preclinical studies. During the phase 1 human trial, the vaccine “was generally well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in” individuals who recovered without the aid of a vaccine.

NVX-CoV2373 is currently being studied across the globe at different stages of clinical trials, including two phase 2 studies and one phase 3 study in the U.K., as well as a phase 1/2 study in Australia and the U.S. On a related note, Novavax announced on Oct. 13 that it would be pursuing global licensure of its vaccine Nanoflu and is evaluating options to create a hybrid coronavirus/flu vaccine that could be available to the public in the aftermath of the pandemic.

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10. iBio

iBio’s (NYSEMKT:IBIO) coronavirus vaccine program hasn’t advanced any candidates to phase 1 clinical trials, so even if it produces a successful vaccine, a market release is a long way off yet.

After evaluating two vaccine candidates called IBIO-200 and IBIO-201 in preclinical immunization studies, the company announced on Sept. 9 that the latter had produced a higher number of neutralizing antibodies in mice subjects and would be its lead candidate. iBio’s chief executive officer and chairman, Tom Isett, stated the following in the press release: “We plan to conduct more focused studies on each of IBIO-200 and IBIO-201, with the goal of advancing IBIO-201 to toxicology studies ahead of planned clinical development.”

The Delaware-based biotechnology company has seen its shares grow considerably since the start of the year due to its potential COVID-19 vaccine. The popular Robinhood stock is up by close to 600% from its January trading price.

5 Winning Stocks Under $49
We hear it over and over from investors, “I wish I had bought Amazon or Netflix when they were first recommended by the Motley Fool. I’d be sitting on a gold mine!” And it’s true. And while Amazon and Netflix have had a good run, we think these 5 other stocks are screaming buys. And you can buy them now for less than $49 a share! Simply click here to learn how to get your copy of “5 Growth Stocks Under $49” for FREE for a limited time only.

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11. Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) initiated the phase 3 clinical trial for its coronavirus vaccine on Sept. 23. With only a handful of other COVID-19 vaccines in development having made it to late-stage trials thus far, consumers and investors alike have been keeping an eagle eye on the company’s progress.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is being studied and developed by its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. The phase 3 trial is being conducted on up to 60,000 human subjects worldwide. The current study is evaluating subjects who have been administered a single dose of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, while a separate phase 3 human trial in which subjects will be administered two doses has been slated to begin before the year is out.

Management released a statement on Oct. 12 saying that it was temporarily halting dosing of subjects in the phase 3 study after an individual became sick with “an unexplained illness.” However, the press release noted that adverse reactions are not at all unusual in clinical studies and particularly those involving a broad range of subjects.

ALSO READ: If You Invested $1,000 in Johnson & Johnson in January, This Is How Much You Would Have Today

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12. Merck

Merck’s (NYSE:MRK) coronavirus vaccine is called V591 and only recently entered a phase 1/2 human trial in September. The study is small and will encompass fewer than 300 participants. The participants will be administered the vaccine according to varied dosing schedules. If the vaccine proves to be safe and effective at just one vaccine dose, Merck could gain the edge against the competition, as many of the companies developing vaccines require a two-dose regimen.

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We could still have a long wait ahead

While speculation abounds regarding the exact timeline by which a safe and effective vaccine could be on the market, the reality is that we could still have a long wait ahead. Even if early doses of an efficacious vaccine are available before the end of the year, those would likely be distributed first to frontline workers and other more vulnerable populations. There are also manufacturing constraints as well as cold-storage issues to be considered, as many of the vaccine candidates currently in development have stringent storage requirements. The World Health Organization recently said that younger populations less at risk of long-term adverse harm from COVID-19 may not have access to a vaccine until 2022.

At this point, it’s risky at best to invest too heavily in any healthcare stock based on a potential COVID-19 vaccine alone. If you do decide to invest in coronavirus stocks, it’s wise to choose companies with otherwise strong balance sheets and product pipelines. For example, stocks such as Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have plenty of green flags for future growth besides their coronavirus vaccine candidates. If you decide to invest in a more speculative coronavirus stock, these should represent a less substantial part of your portfolio.

Rachel Warren has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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