The race for a Covid-19 vaccine is dominating the news cycle. Dozens of companies from around the globe are participating in one of the more fascinating scientific quests of all time. A typical vaccine process for a novel condition like Covid-19 typically takes years. So is it really possible that we can get a vaccine for a novel virus that didn’t exist one year ago in less than nine months?
The answer depends on the public-private partnership known as Operation Warp Speed (OWS). As you understand more about OWS, you realize that it’s not some half-baked scheme. It’s an effective way to get the government and private sector working together to “flatten the curve” of the vaccine development process.
But as an investor you’re aware that not every bio tech firm is part of OWS. Selected companies have to meet four distinct criteria. One of those criteria is its use of one of four “approved” vaccine platforms.
I’m not going to try to explain every platform. However I will say they ranged from traditional technologies that have been used for years to the intriguing, but unproven technology being used by Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA).
But the point at which Operation Warp Speed is stopping is my starting point. My premise is that investors need to keep their eye on the bigger picture. This isn’t a race to be first. It’s a race to be right. In the end, there are likely to be multiple vaccine candidates that are being used.
And while the first one through the door will likely by one of the candidates identified by OWS, there’s room for others to bust through the door. Here are three such candidates.
The first is CureVac (NASDAQ:CVAC). CureVac is developing a vaccine candidate that is based on a messenger RNA (mRNA) platform that is similar to Moderna’s. As simply as I can say it, an mRNA vaccine is intended to teach our bodies how to make the proteins that it needs to have to fight off the virus being targeted.
The technology is gaining acceptance in the scientific community. However, the scientific community has never licensed an mRNA vaccine for human use. And CureVac, a German company, is behind others in terms of where it is in clinical trials. To that end, CureVac’s candidate is more likely to be approved in the European Union before receiving approval in the United States.
CureVac’s stock just began publicly trading in August. After climbing as high as $77 from its initial public offering price of $16, the stock is down to around $54 per share.
Another stock to look at is Inovio (NASDAQ:INO). Inovio is also taking a different approach to vaccine development. The company is developing a nucleic-acid-based candidate. Simply put, it’s a DNA vaccine candidate, INO-4800.
Inovio’s candidate uses pieces of the virus DNA to inject into patients (not the actual virus). The DNA fragments include antigens for the virus. The theory is that the body will process the antigens and then be ready for the virus should it ever enter the body.
This is what allowed Inovio to develop INO-4800 within hours or getting the DNA sequence for the virus. However, after receiving some additional funding from Operation Warp Speed, the company is not part of the final push.
However, the company is preparing to start late-stage trials and may have some critical competitive advantages in terms of both its ability to ship and administer the vaccine. Inovio is very much a company that may not win the race, but may still play a significant role.
The third company you may want to keep an eye on is iBio (NYSEAMERICAN:IBIO). The company is a well-known innovator in the plant-based pharmaceutical field. However, that has never translated into a vaccine candidate. iBio is attempting to bring one of its two Covid-19 vaccine candidates into the clinical trial stage. But by any measure they are far behind other companies in that process.
But if you accept my premise that there will be more than one vaccine, then you’ll understand the possibilities for iBio. The company has a production called FastPharming that is a plant-based process that could allow it to bring a vaccine candidate to market much faster than other processes.
And iBio recently signed an exclusive agreement with Planet Biotechnology Inc. to develop a plant-based therapeutic Covid-19 candidate.
This is a race worth following
A recent CDC report finds a high correlation between patients with symptomatic Covid-19 and restaurant dining of some form. Of course the report also states that the symptomatic patients were reporting there was less adherence to current guidelines (i.e. face covering, social distancing) in the establishments they visited.
This illustrates the maddening nature of the virus and our society’s impatient attempt to get back to an unmitigated normal as soon as possible. But that won’t happen without proven treatments or a vaccine. And if you look at this as a race with multiple winners, then you may want to stop moving at warp speed and look at these candidates.
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Depending on how you look at it, the economic outlook is getting cloudier or clearer.
The argument for a cloudy economy is easy to make. Multiple times of day we hear about more Americans testing positive for the novel coronavirus. The worldwide number of positive tests exceeds one million. And unfortunately, it will go higher. We just don’t know by how much.
But there are two parts to this ongoing situation. The first is the real-time science experiment as the world attempts to flatten the curve. The other is the very real economic impact. And the numbers of the economic carnage are coming in faster than any significant evidence of a flattening curve.
The number of unemployed now exceeds six million and will only rise. The government is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the problem. But it’s an experiment in real-time. We won’t know the results for some time.
But even while we wait for a new normal to return, there are ways for you to profit. There are companies that are keeping our economy going now, and have a business model that sets them up well for success after the pandemic is over.
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