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Hopes of a COVID-19 Vaccine Buoy Drug Makers: 3 Solid Buys

Tirthankar Chakraborty

Moderna, Inc.’s MRNA shares have been treading higher after the company dosed a patient with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus in the Phase 1 study being conducted by the National Institutes of Health. What’ more, another 48 adults are expected to participate in the study that includes two vaccine dozes within a gap of 28 days.

Moderna’s chief medical officer, Tal Zaks said that “this study is the first step in the clinical development of an mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, and we expect it to provide important information about safety and immunogenicity.”

The company already drew attention after it received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus. Moderna has collaborated with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop the experimental mRNA vaccine.

It’s worth pointing out that unlike DNA-based treatments, Moderna focuses on developing mRNA treatments, which should help in treating the virus better. DNA-based treatments generally require the nucleus of the cell but mRNA can be found across the cell which makes it easily accessible.

Moderna in the meantime has confirmed that the company is preparing for a Phase 2 trial of the coronavirus vaccine. The company’s manufacturing unit is also aiming to improve production capacity so that it can produce “millions of doses,” provided the vaccine is safe and effective. Moderna, in fact, wants the vaccine to have a high safety level, which is well above the 0.63-4.24% death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Moderna is now at the top of the list of companies struggling to manufacture vaccines against COVID-19, the disease that has claimed lives across the globe, weighed on corporate earnings, disrupted supply chains and dealt a blow to economic growth.

And thanks to its leadership position, President Trump invited Moderna to the big pharma meet in the White House a couple of weeks ago. Notably, Moderna was the smallest in terms of market cap among the other drug makers that were invited in the meeting.

Last but not the least, Moderna has been pretty impressive. After getting to know the virus’ genetic composition, it took the company less than two months to develop the vaccine. Moderna currently flaunts a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings has moved up 6.2% over the past 60 days. What’s more, the company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current and next quarter is 7.5% and 9.8%, respectively. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

 

Coming back to those racing to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, Novavax, Inc. NVAX and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. REGN are among the front runners. Obviously, shares of vaccine manufacturers have gained sharply on concerns over the virus. Novavax, a late-stage biotechnology company, saw its shares soar more than 100% so far this year.

The Zacks Rank #2 company is primarily manufacturing two late-stage vaccines for the flu and various other infectious diseases. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings has moved up 20.4% over the past 60 days. The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current and next quarter is 72.7% and 67.5%, respectively.

Based on Ebola knowledge, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is making a COVID-19 vaccine. The company’s initiatives in the same line have helped its shares increase leaps and bounds this year, especially when compared to the mere 2.5% it brought in over the last 12 months.

Regeneron key drugs — Eylea and Dupixent – have been performing well as well. Label expansion into additional indications should further increase the commercial potential of the drugs.

Regeneron currently possesses a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings has moved 8.4% north over the past 60 days. The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current and next quarter is 41.4% and 21.3%, respectively (read more: Coronavirus Fears Holding You Back? 3 Smart Ways to Invest).

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