Will Coronavirus Propel This Vaccine Maker’s Stock Even Higher?

Fears that China's outbreak of a new "coronavirus" shocked the stock market on Monday, sending the S&P 500 down 1.57% -- and slicing 1.89% off the Nasdaq. What's bad news for many companies, however, could be good news for one unprofitable medical specialist in particular: Novavax (NVAX).

With its shares down 82% in 52 weeks, Novavax stock hasn't had much to recommend itself to investors in recent months. However, rising panic over the effects of China's coronavirus outbreak sent Novavax shares spiking sharply upwards -- and that's entirely understandable, even if it's not entirely reasonable, as Ladenburg Thalmann analyst Michael Higgins explained in a research note to clients.

Over the weekend, China's National Health Commission revealed that the number of persons infected by the "2019-nCoV virus" has spiked from 2,025 to 2,794, a 38% one-day jump in infections. At least 80 people have died already, and 461 more patients are  in critical condition. At this rate, by the end of this week, the number of infections could top 5,000, and deaths -- 150.

Given these statistics, it's only natural investors would cast about in search of a company working to develop a cure, and Higgins admits that Novavax is one such company.

"Per our conversations with management, it's possible for the company to develop a 2019-nCov vaccine that is ready for manufacturing scale-up in 90 days," says Higgins. Problem is, regulatory requirements for "toxicity and stability studies" ...  followed by animal studies ... followed by human testing, mean that we're still months and months away from Novavax coming up with any kind of an effective solution to the outbreak -- much less profiting from it.

Fortunately, says Higgins, although coronavirus is what's driving Novavax stock right now, there are more realistic and timely catalysts for the stock becoming attractive than the current health scare out of China. Two weeks ago, the FDA granted "Fast Track Designation" on Novavax's Phase 3 treatment for more seasonal flu viruses, the "recombinant hemagglutinin (HA) protein nanoparticle flu vaccine" NanoFlu. While perhaps not as immediate a crisis as China's coronavirus, flu season in the U.S. routinely sees about 140,000 patients hospitalized, and as many as 8,200 lives lost (and more than twice that over the course of the full year), making the flu actually a bigger threat to health and safety -- and a bigger market for Novavax -- than the current crisis fixating investors.

Clinical trial results for NanoFlu are due out in late March. Assuming all goes well, and NanoFlu goes into production in 2022 or 2023, Higgins foresees Novavax leaping from an annual revenue rate of about $11 million in 2019, to something closer to $1 billion in annual sales by 2027.

This then -- the common flu, rather than the Chinese flu-like symptoms that left stocks stricken on Monday -- is the reason that Higgins believes Novavax stock is worth $27.50 a share, and a buy rating. And if Novavax comes up with a cure to the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in the meantime? That would just be icing on the cake.

All in all, TipRanks reveals the vaccine maker as one drawing bullish attention on Wall Street. Out of 4 analysts tracked in the last 3 months, all 4 rate NVAX a "buy." Furthermore, the 12-month average price target stands tall at $17.38, marking over 140% upside potential from where the stock is currently trading. (See NVAX stock analysis at TipRanks)

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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