Markets Bet Big on Coronavirus Vaccine Stocks: 3 Front Runners

Wall Street analysts are betting big on pharma companies that are among the frontrunners in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine. And as businesses have begun to reopen resulting in a spike in new coronavirus cases, the need of a vaccine is at its peak. Naturally, pharma stocks have been on fire over the last few months. From gene testing, gene editing to using AI to speed up drug development, all have helped pharma stocks scale north. But most importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brightened the future of pharma players. The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) is up more than 15% year to date, after skyrocketing 26% in the second quarter. Another ETF that tracks the healthcare sector, the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI), jumped an astounding 44.6% in the second quarter to hit an all-time high in June. And this is only the beginning! After all, shares of some of the prominent biotech players have been surging lately. Moderna, Inc.’s MRNA shares went up 4.5% on Jul 14 and a further 16% during after-market trading once its COVID-19 vaccine showed strong immune response. Similarly, U.S.-listed German firm, BioNTech SE BNTX and Pfizer Inc. PFE saw their shares climb 15% and 5%, respectively, on Jul 14. This is because two of their four experimental coronavirus vaccine candidates, BNT162b1 and BNT162b2, received the “fast track” designation from the FDA, which is designed to speed up the regulatory review process. Needless to say, such candidates showed enough potential to address unmet medical requirements. And as investors cheer signs of progress in COVID-19 vaccine development, here’re three stocks that are worth keeping an eye on. Of course, the first one is Moderna. As mentioned earlier, its shares have been gaining lately after the biotech firm published an interim analysis of Phase 1 study of mRNA-1273, its vaccine candidate against the deadly coronavirus. Results of the clinical trial were promising, showing that the vaccine candidate produced a “robust” immune system against SARS-CoV-2. The interim analysis showed that a two-dose vaccination schedule of mRNA-1273 were given 28 days apart across three dose levels (25, 100, 250 µg) among 45 people between 18 to 55 years of age. The participants’ immune responses were boosted, with no serious adverse effects reported through Day 57. Tal Zaks CMO of Moderna said that “these Phase 1 data demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits a robust immune response across all dose levels and clearly support the choice of 100 µg in a prime and boost regimen as the optimal dose for the Phase 3 study.” The company is now looking forward to begin a Phase 3 study this month to demonstrate the vaccine’s ability to substantially reduce the threat of COVID-19. Last week, Moderna signed a manufacturing agreement with Spain’s Laboratorios Farmacéuticos Rovi for another COVID-19 vaccine. Shares of Moderna have soared a whopping 280% so far this year and its expected earnings growth for the next five-year period is a steady 33.6% versus the Medical - Biomedical and Genetics industry’s projected gain of 16.3%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings has moved up 0.7% over the past 30 days. Moderna currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here. Second, no doubt, is Pfizer. If the ongoing trial of coronavirus vaccine along with BioNTech proves successful, the company along with the German firm will be able to jointly develop up to 100 million doses by the end of the year, and most likely more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of next year. Meanwhile, Peter Honig, Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory Affairs, Pfizer said that “the FDA's decision to grant these two COVID-19 vaccine candidates Fast Track designation signifies an important milestone in the efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.” Pfizer has a Zacks Rank #3. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings climbed 0.7% over the past 60 days. The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the next five-year period is 4.4%. Last but not the least is GlaxoSmithKline plc GSK, another leading vaccine maker. The company is known for human papillomavirus (HPV) and the seasonal flu vaccines. Nevertheless, it announced a deal with Sanofi SNY to develop a coronavirus vaccine candidate. As part of the deal, GlaxoSmithKline’s adjuvant technology will be paired with Sanofi’s S-protein COVID-19 antigen, and the vaccine candidate is set to enter clinical trials this year. At the same time, GlaxoSmithKline has collaborated with biotech firm Medicago to develop a plant-based coronavirus vaccine candidate. As per the deal, GlaxoSmithKline will develop the adjuvant technology and combine it with Medicago’s CoVLP (Coronavirus Virus-Like Particles) vaccine candidate. GlaxoSmithKline is in sound shape. It’s three new products, Trelegy Ellipta, Shingrix and Juluca, are doing well, particularly Shingrix. These products coupled with restructuring in the Consumer Health unit have strengthened the company’s competitive position. GlaxoSmithKline has a Zacks Rank #3. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its current-year earnings has risen 0.7% over the past 30 days. The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the next five-year period is 2.8%. Looking for Stocks with Skyrocketing Upside? Zacks has just released a Special Report on the booming investment opportunities of legal marijuana.       Ignited by new referendums and legislation, this industry is expected to blast from an already robust $6.7 billion to $20.2 billion in 2021. Early investors stand to make a killing, but you have to be ready to act and know just where to look.    See the pot trades we're targeting>> 
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