In the midst of a pandemic that has seen entire industries (airlines, rental cars, hotels) gutted, and others (restaurants, physical retail) on the brink of bankruptcy, investors are hungry for one kind of data above all others: Vaccine effectiveness and safety.
So when Moderna (MRNA) released a bit of supplemental data on Phase 1 clinical trials of its mRNA-1273 vaccine against coronavirus Wednesday, the investment bankers from JPMorgan were right there, pens in hand, and ready to take notes.
Moderna made its latest reveal at a public meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) providing additional detail on the effectiveness and safety of mRNA-1273 in vaccinating older patients relative to younger. ("Older," in this context, meaning patients either aged 56-70, or 71+ -- and "younger" encompassing everyone aged 18 to 55).
As JPMorgan analyst Cory Kasimov related in his report on the data, "immune responses to mRNA-1273 in two older adult cohorts ... was consistent with younger subjects with a safety profile that appears slightly more tolerable than the 18-55 yr old cohort."
Specifically, the data showed production of "Anti-S2p" antibodies against the SAR-CoV-2 coronavirus in the 200,000 to 250,000 range for the older groups of patients, bracketing the 213,000 level seen in the younger group. Neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) likewise ranged from 220 to 350 in the older groups, bracketing the 256 level seen in the younger.
As regards vaccine "safety," significantly fewer patients in the older groups (40% to 60%) reported feeling chills after taking their second dose of mRNA-1273, than was seen in the younger group (80%). Fatigue levels in the older groups (70% to 75%) was likewise less prevalent than in the younger group (80%). And whereas 40% of younger patients reported contracting a fever in reaction to the immunization shot, only 8% to 10% of older patients experienced such a reaction.
Moderna also noted that its mRNA-1273 vaccine can be safely stored for up to six months if kept at a temperature of -20 degrees Celsius. As it is prepared for distribution, temperatures of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius will permit the vaccine to be stored for seven days safely. Once opened and ready to be administered, however, Moderna recommends that the entire contents of a vial be used within six hours.
Digesting this data, Kasimov concluded that mRNA-1273 appears to be showing a "promising profile" for patients both young and old patients, and it certainly sound that way. That being said, Kasimov did have a couple of reservations that are worth highlighting.
First and foremost, Phase 1 clinical trial data is a very thin reed to be building an investment case upon. Ultimately, says Kasimov, he still wants to see "the Phase 3 results with mRNA-1273, which are anticipated sometime this fall, to see how the data evolves."
And of course -- and crucially -- until Moderna actually begins selling this vaccine, collecting revenues from it, and calculating profit margins on it, Kasimov reserves judgment on Moderna's "ability to generate long-term meaningful revenues that justify prevailing market values."
Accordingly, Kasimov maintains only a "neutral" rating on the stock. But the analyst might as well have said “buy” — because he thinks the stock, currently at $68.03, could zoom ahead to $89 within a year, delivering 31% profits to new investors. (To watch Kasimov's track record, click here)
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