Vaccine specialist and COVID-19 antagonist Moderna (MRNA) had a busy Thursday, issuing press releases and holding conference calls to discuss what it had said in the press releases already.
Three major subjects for discussion were covered over the course of the day, and in a note updating investors on its opinion of Moderna, JPMorgan analyst Cory Kasimov discussed them all. Let's begin with the most urgent question of the day: Coronavirus, and Moderna's mRNA-1273 vaccine to prevent getting infected with it.
Kasimov notes that Moderna unveiled "a few incremental data points" on its COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna is looking to get, and disclose its first "interim" data sometime next month, and then to have a second set of data ready a month or two later. However, the updates "do little to change our view of the stock," says Kasimov, and so JP Morgan still feels "most comfortable on the sidelines." Hence, the analyst's Neutral rating remains unchanged. (To watch Kasimov's track record, click here)
Nonetheless, moving on to the other news items, Kasimov notes that Moderna's partnership with Merck to develop the mRNA-1172 vaccine against adult respiratory syncytial virus (RSV -- a common virus that can lead to pneumonia or other severe symptoms, especially in patients who are elderly or have an underlying health condition), is on the rocks. Just as soon as the vaccine finishes up its Phase 1 clinical trials, Merck will return "all rights" to RSV vaccines to Moderna, and focus its own efforts on antibodies against the disease instead. Meanwhile, Moderna will focus on an mRNA-1345 RSV vaccine.
Kasimov comments that while this is not necessarily bad news for Moderna, "it is rarely ever a good thing when" a partner voluntarily pulls out of a collaboration at this point in a clinical trial. The fact that Moderna will shift its own efforts away from mRNA-1172, and towards a different RSV vaccine, tends to support this interpretation of events.
Last but not least: DARPA. In a separate press release Thursday, Moderna advised that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded it up to $56 million "to fund development of a mobile manufacturing protype" for on-site vaccine production.
Of course, one of the big logistical problems with deploying upcoming coronavirus vaccines is going to be how to keep the vaccines "fresh" between the time they're manufactured and the time they're administered to patients. Moderna's idea to solve this problem, especially in locales where it might be difficult to maintain refrigeration (say, in developing nations), is "to develop a mobile, end-to-end automated manufacturing platform to provide in-field, just-in-time manufacturing of... vaccines."
DARPA is going to give Moderna the money it needs to try and prove it can do this in a min-factory measuring just six feet cubed.
Kasimov didn't have much to say on this point, mind you. But another analyst, Oppenheimer's Hartaj Singh, called the idea "an added step toward establishing mRNA vaccines as a best-in-class prophylactic approach to addressing infectious diseases."
And not for nothing, but Singh thinks Moderna stock will outperform the market -- and is worth $108 a share. (To watch Singh's track record, click here)
Overall, with 13 analyst reviews on record, split into 10 Buys, 2 Holds, and 1 Sell, Moderna has a Moderate Buy consensus rating. Meanwhile, the average price target of $92.77 implies a 27% upside from current level. (See Moderna stock analysis on TipRanks)
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