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Bob Mason
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The 2nd Wave

COVID-19 continued to spread over the weekend, with the total number of COVID-19 cases standing at 54,328,752 at the time of writing.

While there are reportedly 37,871,087 who have recovered, there have been 1,318,278 related deaths.

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The U.S and India continue to have the largest number of cases, with the U.S reporting 11,226,038 cases. Additionally, the U.S also has the largest number of COVID-19 related deaths, currently at 251,256.

Things also continue to be bleak across Europe, with France nearing 2 million cases after having overtaken both Italy and Spain.

While the total number of cases in Italy and Spain sit at 1,492,608 and 1,144,552 respectively, the UK has also seen a jump in new cases. At the time of writing, the total number of new cases stands at 1,344,356.

With the winter months rapidly approaching, the race towards an effective COVID-19 vaccine has intensified.

More cases and more COVID-19 related deaths are anticipated, in spite of governments introducing containment measures.

For the U.S, the headline figure will likely get far worse before any effective vaccine is widely available. The outgoing administration continues to leave the economy open, in spite of new daily cases sitting at record highs.

As a result, market sentiment and updates from the pharmas on when a vaccine is likely to be available remain key to risk sentiment.

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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 reportedly 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 Clinical Trials

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech SE spurred a global equity market rally, with their impressive phase 3 clinical trial results.

As the week wore on, however, greater awareness led to some apprehension over what lies ahead.

While Pfizer announced an efficacy rate of more than 90%, there are a number of other important considerations. As importantly, there is also some way to go before an effective vaccine is available worldwide.

Other Vaccine 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 care facilities, hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies,
  • Durability: Some vaccines are effective 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.

So, as clinical trial data begins to hit the news wires, the markets will also need to begin focusing on the other considerations. For emergency approvals to be given by the likes of the FDA, safety requirements must be met as a minimum.

While Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE are currently out in front, a number of other pharmas are likely to release results imminently.

The World Health Organization has listed more than 200 vaccines in the works, with 48 currently in clinical evaluation. The WHO’s overview of COVID-19 candidate vaccines is available to download here.

The Front Runners

  • Pfizer Inc. (“PFE”) and BioNTech SE: Awaiting safety, duration, 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 that 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 quarter. 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, more favorable storage requirements mean 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. The 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 Lies Ahead

We can expect plenty of updates in the coming weeks and we will see plenty of movement in the respective stocks.

Pharmas trailing, in the event of further positive news, will likely come under further pressure.

For Pfizer, safety results, manufacturing, and durability results will be in focus near-term. For Moderna and AstraZeneca phase 3 clinical trial results will be in focus. With AstraZeneca commencing vaccine production ahead of approvals, favorable results could give them an edge.

Trailing pharma/government partnerships may also announce further investment commitments to bridge the gap.

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