Neither the author, Tim Fries, nor this website, The Tokenist, provide financial advice. Please consult our website policy prior to making financial decisions.
COVID-19 will go down in history as the most curious event to have happened in modern times. Namely, data clearly pointed in March of 2020 that COVID-19’s mortality rate is within the range of past seasonal flus. Moreover, of those who died, almost all were either elderly or had previous medical conditions.
List of Pharmaceutical Companies Working on COVID-19 Vaccine
Statistically, there is nothing extraordinary about COVID-19 from every other time seasonal viruses came and went away. Except that digital media has made everything hyper-real and hyper-tracked.
All those other times, no government ever entertained the idea of shutting down the economy. COVID-19 turned out differently, however. Starting with Chinese unprecedented quarantines of hundreds of millions of people, to Western governments locking down entire nations.
Those who did not implement such drastic measures, like Sweden, failed to suffer any negative consequences resulting from not instituting lockdowns. In fact, as the media continues to bombard the public space with soaring numbers of new COVID-19 cases, the death toll continues to decline, putting it further into the range of seasonal flus of past decades.
It is hard to imagine the degree of scientific illiteracy one has to possess in order to focus all reporting on the numbers of new coronavirus cases, without addressing the bigger picture. We can only hope to not enter a deeper spiral of societal decay in the aftermath of stimulus packages.
Regardless of the dubious framing of the coronavirus epidemic, few things have crystallized for those concerned with the bear market coronavirus triggered. One of them includes where should they put their next stimulus check, as many remain jobless. These points include:
Governments will be heavily involved in promoting and deploying the treatment of symptoms and vaccination. American Operation Warp Speed is just one such effort.
Hundreds of millions of people are primed to jump on the first credible opportunity of a “cure”.
Those pharmaceutical companies that develop the most effective form of treatment and/or vaccination will come out as the biggest stock winners in recent history.
However, due to the fact that COVID-19 adversely affects mainly older people and those with previous conditions, it will be a difficult and protracted process to discern all the factors that would make certain drugs the “right ones”. Moreover, this represents an opportunity for biotech and pharmaceutical companies to develop novel mechanisms to tackle not just COVID-19 but all the inevitable future viruses as well.
Which Pharmaceutical Companies are Working on a COVID-19 Vaccine?
Without further ado, take a look at three of these companies that stand out from the crowd.
Moderna Therapeutics, founded just 10 years ago, surged into the public spotlight after they released the success of their Phase I vaccine trial in May, in which all of the tested participants developed antibodies. Although only 8 out of 45 participants developed antibodies that aggressively fought off the virus, this was welcome news for the initial trial.
Outside of COVID-19 emergency, Moderna can boast to be working on 24 new treatments for a wide range of respiratory and exotic diseases. They also have a focus on cancer.
Their over $2 billion-dollar research budget and partnership with Merck (MRK) and AstraZeneca (AZN) makes them a rising star on the pharmaceutical scene. One of Moderna’s most important current projects is set to enter Phase III trial in 2021, as it tries to tackle the predominant cause of birth defects – congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Unfortunately, Moderna decided to postpone its 9th July Phase III trial that was supposed to be tested on 30,000 people. The official reason for the delay is that the company needs to further tweak the trial’s protocols. However, Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel assured CNBC this is only temporary, meaning that the Phase III trials, which determine vaccine efficacy, will be conducted sometime during July.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO)
Even before Western governments decided to cripple their economies, Inovio announced the production of the COVID-19 vaccine in February, with a human clinical trial in April. That same month, they entered a partnership with Richter-Helm BioLogics to ensure production of at least one million INO-4800 units before the end of the year.
Inovio employs cutting edge technology by using so-called DNA plasmids, synthetic DNA fragments that invade either cancerous cells or infectious viruses like COVID-19. This represents a stark departure from traditional methods of dealing with viral infections, which is to use weakened viruses to provoke an immune response without inflicting the disease itself.
Therefore, DNA plasmids would not pose a risk to people with depleted immune systems. Moreover, this technology is highly cost-effective as it doesn’t require mammalian cell cultures. Instead, the DNA plasmids are easily produced by bacteria.
Much is expected of this technology, which is why Inovio successfully raised more cash than the previous quarter, $270 million in March 31 compared to $90 million. Inovio’s other projects involve the treatment of cervical, prostate, and brain cancers, Lassa fever, Zika, HIV, Ebola, and others. Important to note that Inovio is one of the rare companies that developed a Phase II trial vaccine for MERS, which is related to coronavirus family.
Recently, Inovio shares dropped due to general market uncertainty, overbuying, and the lawsuit against the company, headed by CEO Joseph Kim, who may have infringed certain regulations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 with his public statements regarding COVID-19 vaccine.
Still, Inovio continues to have success with its Phase I trial for INO-4800. Specifically, on June 30, Inovio report stated that 94% of participant’s immune response acted positively to the vaccine.
In short, Inovio’s tech and treatment pipeline show promise beyond coronavirus. Even in that area, they are among the first to be the most likely to develop an effective drug.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)
This company has close ties with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Initially, it was charged with developing antibody-based corona treatment in collaboration with Sanofi (SNY).
These companies saw an unlikely ally with Kevzara. As a rheumatoid arthritis medication, it shows promise in tricking COVID-19-inflicted immune systems from attacking healthy cells. This is one of the major novelties of the virus.
Although the results of these trials were less than satisfactory, Regeneron has a parallel project called REGN-COV2, which started its Phase III trial just yesterday. In essence, REGN-COV2 is a cocktail that attacks the virus from multiple angles, similar to how HIV medication works.
Like other previously mentioned biotech companies, Regeneron has many projects that are likely to turn into big profit. Among them is Eylea for macular degeneration, given that its direct competitor Novartis (NOV) faces safety issues. Eylea has already become Regeneron’s best-selling drug at $4.6 billion in sales in 2019. Their steady yearly growth of 22% in a five-year period is further boosted by Dupixent, a drug for dermatitis.
Word of Caution on COVID-19 Vaccine
Predictably, many pharmaceutical companies have jumped to the opportunity of developing the cure for the world’s first disease that incited governments to crash the economy. Many have already failed to deliver:
Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir
None of them present effective treatments for those rare, severe cases of COVID-19. Just type “fails trial” next to them. That doesn’t mean that these companies don’t have valuable projects though.
After all, Kevzara was merely one avenue of research for Regeneron. In the end, we will likely see which way the wind blows at the end of the year. With that said, these companies show promise to grow regardless of the urgency to become the coronavirus world savior.
Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim served as a Senior Associate on the investment team at RW Baird's US Private Equity division, and is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital, an investment firms specializing in sensing, protection and control solutions.