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Top Pharma Companies Enter the Coronavirus Vaccine Race. Will the US catch up to the UK?

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Wow! The more we advance into the trading week, the higher our adrenaline rises. Last week, the UK made a historic stride forward in approving and ordering the first 800,000 doses of the new coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Spearheading the healthcare revolution, the UK has also secured 5 million doses of their competitor’s jab, Moderna. At the time of writing, the coronavirus vaccine rollout is in full swing, with the first shot being given to someone outside a clinical trial.

coronavirus vaccine vial

Margaret Keenan, aged 90, and the grandmother of four, was the “privileged” receiver of the first shot of health. Is this humanity’s victory against COVID-19? That’s perhaps premature to even think at this stage. One thing is certain though: the race for health is on. Who will win? Time will tell. As to whether whose vaccine will make it to the market first, that is a different story… Perhaps, this article will give you a clue, or make you wonder even more and want to add one of these stocks to your watchlist for 2021.

Following the spate of breaking news, Trade360 stock experts compiled a list of top pharma stocks to keep an eye on. So, check them out and make your pick.

Pfizer or BioNTech?

pfizer logo

Both. When it comes to global healthcare, Pfizer and BioNTech took the bull by the horns (pun intended), and results have already started to show. Proven 94.5% effective in the prevention of coronavirus infections, the Pfizer-BioNTech jab is already being administered to the elderly in the UK and has cleared its path towards the US approval as well. On 8 December, the US Food and Drug Administration Authority released a set of documents backing the safety and efficacy of Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use. Right on time before the FDA meeting on Thursday, 10 December, when the approval decision will likely make the breaking news.

Michael Yee, an analyst at Jefferies, characterised the material submitted by the two companies as “very simple and straightforward, which we think will lead to approval imminently”. So, the FDA may well keep up with the UK’s MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) after all.

Moderna

moderna logo with medicine vial

A serious contender of Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna is coming in hard. On 30 November, the biotechnology company announced the results of its clinical trial for its coronavirus vaccine candidate. Out of a group of 30,000 people, only 11 who received two doses of the vaccine developed COVID-19 symptoms after being infected with the pandemic virus, compared with 185 people in a placebo group who presented symptoms. The data gathered from this clinical trial was sufficient to prove an encouraging 94.1% efficacy of Moderna’s COVID vaccine, way above what many vaccine scientists anticipated. Furthermore, the jab proved 100% effective against developing severe forms of the disease.

Last week, the company submitted an extended data set to the FDA for review, which made the drug regulator mull an approval.  “This is striking. These are amazing data”, said Dr. Paul Offit, FDA vaccine advisory committee member. Chances are Moderna will have the FDA approval and soon.

On another note, both the PfizerBioNTech pair and Moderna applied for conditional marketing authorisation (CMA) with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week. The agency has already examined part of the data they submitted via a “rolling review” and might issue a verdict “within weeks”.

The Commission has already secured up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine and 160 million doses of Moderna’s candidate. Still, Moderna said that its initial 20 million doses would be made and used for the US. The American biotechnology company hopes to supply its vaccine globally in 2021.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is yet another pharma colossus to have developed a vaccine for coronavirus. Backed by Oxford University in its endeavour to rid the world of COVID-19, AstraZeneca became the first vaccine developer to enter its Phase 3 trial during the pandemic and publish its findings in a peer-reviewed paper – the Lancet medical journal. According to the publication, the vaccine is 70.4% effective against SARS-COV-2. Furthermore, no hospitalisations or severe cases were reported three weeks after the first dose was taken by around 11,600 volunteers in the UK and Brazil, the study showed.

Johnson & Johnson

Associated with brands like Johnson’s Baby, Aveeno, Neutrogena, Clean&Clear, Visine, Acuvue, Bengay, Band-Aid, and lots and lots of consumer goods, Johnson & Johnson got into the public eye for developing a single-dose vaccine for coronavirus. Entering its phase 3 trial in October, the company had paused it when one of the up to 60,000 participants experienced a side effect to the vaccine. However, the trial was resumed at the end of the month as ‘no clear cause’ had been identified, according to a press release published on the company’s website. Johnson & Johnson is the first pharmaceutical company to develop a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to enter the final stage of its clinical trial. The Phase III study is the largest coronavirus vaccine studies so far testing volunteers at more than 200 sites in the US, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

In a recent statement during an event held by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, J&J Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels said he expects results of the late-stage experimental vaccine trial in January 2021. 

Requiring only one shot, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine may eventually turn out to be less costly compared with Pfizer’s jab, for example. After procuring only 50 million doses of Pfizer’s jab to vaccinate less than a half of the population and refusing to buy more, the Trump administration could allegedly beat this deficit with Johnson & Johnson (if its vaccine candidate passes the FDA). Will it be approved? Will J&J save America? That’s for the news break. Meanwhile, just enjoy it in a different shape and form.

Novavax

novavax logo

Novavax is a more traditional vaccine developer. Unlike its competitors using other techniques and vaccine components – for example, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson use mono-virus vectors, while Moderna and Pfizer have adopted a messenger RNA model – Novavax uses a protein subunit from the spike protein in SARS-COV2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infections. The spike protein is the main target for the development of immunity. The spike protein is basically injected into the body together with a booster to help the system develop antibodies that latch on to the spike protein and thus generate immune response  by feeding on it.

Particularly because of its “traditional” composition based on virus antigens (e.g.: SARS-COV2 spike protein), Novavax holds great promise for the future, says Stuart Cohen, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Director of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Prevention at UC Davis Health, where the Novavax vaccine trial is still ongoing. This is also what makes storage and handling of the Novavax jab much easier compared to others. While Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines require storage at temperatures way below 00C, Novavax can be stored at temperatures between 20C to 80C. Novavax received fast-track authorisation from the FDA on 9 November.

GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline, self-titled “the vaccine company” is the pharma brand behind numerous coronavirus vaccines. According to the company, “more than one vaccine” is needed. Partnering with other pharma titans like Sanofi, Medicago, and Clover Biopharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline is a serious competitor in the vaccine race. Combining adjuvant technology with other cutting-edge techniques, the company said it would request regulatory approval for its Sanofi and Medicago vaccine candidates in the first half of 2021, according to an article published on its website.

In early December 2020, Glaxo confirmed positive results on its Clover-backed jab, which proved safe in 150 adult individuals and elderly volunteers. Advanced-stage trials on Glaxo adjuvant-based vaccines are scheduled for this month. Looking into the near future, the company plans to manufacture 1 billion doses of its adjuvant in 2021. That’s what we like to hear! Thumbs up, Glaxo!

Gilead Sciences

gilead logo, trading chart on the background

Gilead Sciences plays in a slightly different league. Receiving the FDA approval on 22 October, for its anti-COVID drug remdesivir (Veklury), Gilead is the only FDA-approved drug maker that can sell its antiviral drug in the US. Efficient in treating Ebola and SARS-COV-2 infections, remdesivir has so far generated $873 million in sales, mostly in the US.

Eli Lilly or Regeneron?

If it helps your trading choice or your general knowledge of pharma history, both Eli Lilly and Regeneron are linked to the Trump administration (in a therapeutic way- naughty, naughty if you were thinking otherwise). Yes, you almost wouldn’t believe it, but Trump owes his miraculous recovery to Regeneron’s antibody therapy. Known as REGN-COV2, the antibody drug given to the incumbent US President reduced the amount of virus and associated damage in the lungs.

Regeneron obtained FDA approval for emergency use on 21 November,about 3 weeks after the approval granted to Eli Lilly for its similar drug (9 November). All’s well that ends well.

Eli Lilly also won the acclaim of a high-profile official in the person of Chris Christie, former New Jersey Governor and Trump supporter, who had as miraculous a recovery as the president after taking Lilly’s antibody drug. Were they testing the drugs, or what? That’s way out of our league (we’re also curious). Joke aside, the point is that both antibody therapies worked. Lilly’s candidate, LY-COV555, had similar results as REGN-COV2, helping reduce hospitalisation and emergency room visits for COVID-19 patients.

Abbott Laboratories

Famous for developing the coronavirus portable antigen tests, Abbott Laboratories made it to our top pharma stock list for its ingenuity in creating a cost-effective COVID detection solution. The tests deliver results within 15 minutes and are extremely easy to use. Roughly the size of a credit card, the Abbott test doesn’t require any additional equipment to operate and is less invasive than traditional tests.

Sold for only $5 each, antigen tests are faster and significantly more cost-effective than lab tests yet reportedly less accurate. Abbott obtained FDA approval for its antigen test (BinaxNOW) in late August. The Trump administration then purchased 150 million of the touted BinaxNOW tests for $750 million.

Finally, we can really say we’re on the right path. With so many options at hand, which brand will the world choose? Who will win this tight vaccine race? Hmm… This is a tough question. Until we figure it out, stocks from all these pharma companies are sure to drive the financial markets in the near to the not-so-near future. Therefore, it may be worth adding them to your watchlist. To do that, just open an account with Trade360.

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