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Bob Mason
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Moderna Inc. Delivers

Following Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s announcement, however, the markets were awaiting Moderna Inc. trial results.

The markets didn’t have to wait long. With pressure building on pharmas to deliver an effective vaccine, Moderna Inc. delivered its phase 3 trial results today.

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According to the phase 3 trial results, Moderna Inc.’s mRNA-1273 vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Not only were the numbers more impressive than that of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech, the trial results included severe disease cases.

Efficacy rates of in excess of 90% are impressive. Both Pfizer Inc. /BioNTech and Moderna Inc. have delivered hope of an end to the pandemic.

Logistics and cost issues remain, however. Both Moderna and Pfizer Inc. will need to deliver vaccines in refrigerated containers. This raises the cost and availability of the vaccine in warmer climates. The good news for Moderna Inc., however, is that Moderna Inc.’s temperature requirements are more favorable than that of Pfizer Inc.

While positive for Moderna Inc., it also means that the likes of AstraZeneca and Novavax remain viable global alternatives should clinical trials impress.

Near-term, both Pfizer and Moderna will need to deliver safety, durability, and manufacturing sustainability data.

Favorable figures will give the two a continued edge over the rest of the front runners and those playing catch up.

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The 2nd Wave

From the weekend, new COVID-19 cases continued to surge across Europe, the US, and beyond.

The impact of the negative numbers on the markets was muted, however, with Moderna Inc.’s results delivering riskier assets with yet another boost.

Looking at the latest COVID-19 numbers, the U.S has seen the total number of cases rise to 11,367,214. From the weekend, the total number of COVID-19 cases has risen by more than 500,000 to 54,896,579.

With India reporting 8,845,617 total COVID-19 cases, France has edged ever closer to the 2 million mark.

Geographically, the 2nd wave of the pandemic has been so significant that a global inoculation remains key to ending the risk of an extended economic meltdown.

The harsh reality remains that borders will remain closed until there is confidence in a global end to the pandemic.

The Race Participants

Pharmaceutical companies in the race to deliver an effective COVID-19 vaccine are vast in number. Some have progressed more than others, however, and are therefore of greater interest to governments and the global financial markets.

The companies are shown in the chart below:

While the companies listed above were trialing 60 different drugs and vaccines. There are many more in trial phases, however. As at 12th November, 670 drugs and vaccines were in development, targeting the coronavirus.

The figures are made available by statista.com and Pharma Intelligence.

Looking at the top 10 companies listed above and a few more in more detail:

U.S Headquartered

Johnson & Johnson: Listed on the NYSE (“JNJ”) and headquartered in New Jersey, USA.

Mateon Therapeutics: Listed on OTCMKTS (“MATN”) and headquartered in California.

Medicago: and is headquartered in Quebec, Canada.

Merck & Co.: Listed on the New York Stock Exchange (“MRK”) and headquartered in New Jersey, USA.

Moderna Inc.: Listed on the NASDAQ (“MRNA”) and headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Novavax: Listed on the NASDAQ (“NVAX”) and headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA.

Pfizer Inc.: Listed on the New York Stock Exchange (“PFE”) and headquartered in New York City. (Pfizer Inc. has partnered with Germany’s BioNTech SE)

Sorrento Therapeutics: Listed on the NASDAQ (“SRNE”) and headquartered in California. Currently trailing many of the front runners in the race for an effective vaccine.

Talem Therapeutics: This is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ImmunoPrecise Antibodies USA. Its parent company, ImmunoPrecise Antibodies Ltd is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Tonix Pharmaceuticals: Listed on the NASDAQ (“TNXP”) and headquartered in New Jersey.

Europe Headquartered

AstraZeneca: Listed on the London Stock Exchange (“AZN”) and headquartered in Cambridge, England and Sodertalje, Sweden.

GlaxoSmithKline: Listed on the London Stock Exchange (“GSK”) and headquartered in Brentford, England.

Grifols, S.A: Listed on the Bolsa de Madrid (“GRF”) and headquartered in Barcelona, Spain.

Sanofi: Listed on the CAC40 (“SAN”) and headquartered in Paris, France.

Asia Headquartered:

GC Pharma: Listed on the Korea Stock Exchange (“006280”) and headquartered in Yongin, South Korea.

As indicated above, the U.S pharmas make up the lion’s share of companies in the race to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Road Ahead

As pharmas roll out phase 3 clinical trial results, there are other factors that remain key considerations.

In addition to efficacy rates, other considerations include:

  • Safety: Side effects are a key consideration and any safety concerns would delay approval by government agencies. At present, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech are accumulating safety data for the FDA. These numbers may well have a greater impact on the global financial markets than the efficacy numbers released earlier this month.
  • Effectiveness: While the latest efficacy numbers were impressive, more information on effectiveness is required. In particular, effectiveness where severe cases of COVID-19 are present.
  • Consistency in manufacturing: With the global COVID-19 pandemic raging on, pharmas will need to provide evidence that the vaccine can be mass-produced. Additionally, pharmas will also need to have the right logistics plans to deliver vaccines to facilities, hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies.
  • Durability: Some vaccines work for longer than others. For an effective COVID-19 vaccine, the durability would most likely need to be similar to that of the flu shot. Anything less and the vaccine would likely be ineffective in immunization for the winter months.

With the above in mind, safety will need to be proven for emergency approval. Once approvals are given, the focus will then shift to manufacturing capacity and logistics.

Governments including those of EU member states, the U.S, and beyond continue to place orders.

Any hint of a distributable vaccine by year-end should provide riskier assets with further support.

As we covered over the weekend, the front runners remain unchanged and are summarized below.

The Front Runners

  • Pfizer Inc. (“PFE”) and BioNTech SE: Awaiting safety and manufacturing consistency data for emergency FDA approval.
  • AstraZeneca (“AZN”) and the University of Oxford: There have been reports of AstraZeneca’s vaccine being as much as 7 times less expensive than Pfizer’s. While Pfizer and BioNTech are currently leading the race, this could give AstraZeneca the edge, particularly across the emerging markets.
  • Moderna Inc. (“MRNA”): Experts are continuing to suggest that Moderna will deliver similar results to that of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech. Clinical trial data could be out as early as this week. Reuters reported last week that the Swiss government has started a rolling review of its vaccine. This is to ensure a quick approval can be given should it deliver positive results. Swissmedic is also reportedly viewing vaccines under development by AstraZeneca and Pfizer & BioNTech.

Trailing Big Names

  • Johnson & Johnson: Phase 3 clinical trials are continuing and are taking place in a number of geographies. Johnson & Johnson began its phase 3 clinical trials back in September. Trials had to be put on hold following a serious medical event. Trials resumed in late October, however. Trailing Pfizer and a number of others, Johnson & Johnson reportedly received additional funding to ramp up its clinical trials. Partnered with the U.S government, the U.S government has reportedly committed an additional US$454m to support phase 3 trials.
  • Medicago: Last week, Medicago released phase 1 trial results. 100% of subjects who received the trial vaccine developed significant antibody and cellular immune responses after two doses. With no safety concerns, the pharma is due to enter phase 2/3 clinical trials before the end of this year. Reuters also reported last week, that Medicago will use a booster from GlaxoSmithKline in its bid to develop an effective vaccine.
  • Novavax: While trailing the majority of the front runners, Novavax is expected to release phase 3 clinical trials from the UK in the 1st Unlikely its peers, Novavax is looking to deliver a dual vaccine. In addition to a COVID-19 vaccine, the company is looking to also include a flu vaccine. For the Novavax dual vaccine, storage of between 35F and 46F means that transport is far simpler and cheaper. One final advantage that Novavax reportedly has over its peers is production capacity.
  • Sanofi / GlaxoSmithKline: The partnership received a US$2.1bn funding commitment from the Trump administration to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine. Their first results are due out in early December, with late-stage trials to begin before year-end. Along with Johnson & Johnson, Medicago, and Novavax, the vaccine currently trails Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

What’s to come?

With Moderna Inc. now having delivered, the focus will shift to Sanofi and AstraZeneca. The two are likely to deliver the next set of results.

Phase 3 trial results will not be enough, however. The pharmas will need to support global inoculation. That means that safety, manufacturing capabilities, and durability will also become a factor in the race to delivering a global vaccination.

It remains a tall order as key economies enter the winter months. While the phase 3 clinical trial results are positive to date, a global inoculation remains a difficult task. This continues to leave the race to deliver a global vaccine wide open.

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