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Pharma Stocks in Focus on Late-Stage Coronavirus Vaccine Trials

The past few months have seen biotech firms and drugmakers going all out to develop a vaccine to wipe out the deadly coronavirus. The race started sometime in February and a number of drugmakers have reported partial success to overwhelming results in their initial phases of trial.

Hopes of a vaccine have once again started rising with a number of companies now entering the final phase of their trials. Also, governments across the world are pumping in millions of dollars to secure the first doses of vaccines.

Late-Stage Trials Raise Vaccine Hopes

On Aug 3, Eli Lilly and Company LLY said that it will be beginning a late-stage trial on one of its experimental COVID-19 antibody treatments. The phase 3 study will ensure if LY-CoV555, a treatment developed by Eli Lilly in partnership with Canadian biotech AbCellera, can prevent the spread of the virus in residents and staff in U.S. nursing homes. The company is expected to enroll up to 2,400 participants who live or work at a facility that have had a recently diagnosed case of coronavirus.

Eli Lilly is already testing the drug in hospitals to study if it can work as a treatment in patients who have the disease. This trial will test whether it works prophylactically. Eli Lilly is among the many companies that have made substantial progress in developing a vaccine candidate for coronavirus. However, the COVID-19 crisis is far from over given that no treatment has yet been found.

Vaccine Race Heats Up

Following remarkable progress in developing a vaccine over the past couple of months, some drugmakers and biotech companies have started ramping up production of their vaccine candidates, anticipating huge demand if they prove successful. Last week, Moderna, Inc. MRNA and Pfizer, Inc PFE launched two 30,000-subject trials of COVID-19 vaccines that could clear the way for regulatory approval and widespread use by the end of this year, the companies said.

The trials, both announced on the same day, are the first late-stage studies supported by the Trump administration to ramp up development of a coronavirus vaccine. Also, the Trump administration is shelling out billions of dollars to secure the first doses of a successful vaccine.

Pharma giants Sanofi SNY and GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) last week said that they will receive up to $2.1 billion from the U.S. government for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Sanofi and GSK will start clinical trials of their vaccine candidate in September and the Phase 3 study will be underway by the end of the year.

Also, Dr. Anthony Fauci, United States’ leading infectious diseases doctor, said on Jul 6 that the nation will get to know by the end of this year whether a coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective. He had also assured that a vaccine will be available as soon as the clinical trials are complete, giving a boost to the confidence of millions.

Stocks in Focus

Moderna has been one of the frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race. The company’s vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 is a molecule that genetically encodes a set of instructions based on which cells make proteins and send them to various parts of the body. Moderna’s vaccine for COVID-19 showed it was safe and triggered immune responses in all 45 healthy volunteers in the early-stage study. Its shares have gained 28.5% in the past 30 days. Moderna has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Pfizer joined forces with German biotech giant BioNTech (NTX) to develop a vaccine for coronavirus. The 360 patients in the United States trial started to receive the first doses of the four vaccine candidates included in the study as of May 5. Dosing in 200 participants in the German trial began on Apr 23. The company has now entered its phase 2/3 safety and efficacy clinical study on 30,000 subjects. The candidate has so far shown promise and the U.S. government last month announced a $1.95 billion contract with the company for up to 600 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer’s shares have advanced 10.9% in the past month. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings has improved 1.4% over the past 60 days. Pfizer carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Gilead Sciences, Inc. GILD in May received an emergency-use authorization from the FDA based on preliminary results from two clinical trials: one conducted by the NIAID and the other by itself. The company’s expected earnings growth rate for next year is 4.1%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings has improved 3.8% over the past 30 days. Shares of the company have gained 9.7% year to date. Gilead has a Zacks Rank #3.

Amgen, Inc. AMGN, one of the biggest biotech companies in the world, collaborated with Adaptive, Inc. ADPT in April to work on antibodies that can be used to prevent or treat COVID-19.  Amgen also plans to test Otezla as a COVID-19 therapy treating respiratory distress in late-stage patients in the coming days.

Amgen’s expected earnings growth rate for the current year is 6%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year earnings has improved 1% over the past 60 days. Amgen carries a Zacks Rank #3.

Dynavax Technologies Corporation DVAX is developing a vaccine candidate SCB-2019 with GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) which is in its phase 1 clinical trials. The vaccine is made up of the S-Trimer protein that resembles the coronavirus spike protein and hence triggers the immune system to produce antibodies. Last week, Dynavax partnered with Taiwan-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The partners will leverage Medigen’s stable prefusion form of the SARS-CoV2 recombinant spike protein in combination with Dynavax’s advanced adjuvant CpG 1018.Zacks Rank #3 Dynavax’sshares have rallied 100% in the past three months.

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