Covid 19 vaccine race – who’s in pole position?

Covid 19 vaccine race – who’s in pole position?
Written by:
Michael Harris
15th September, 13:47
  • Billions and billions of dollars have been spent to develop a vaccine in the shortest possible time frame
  • The British drugmaker AstraZeneca was recently forced to suspend all late-stage trials on its COVID-19 vaccine
  • It seems that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are leading the vaccine race

A number of companies and research teams around the globe are struggling to develop a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19. Billions and billions of dollars have been spent to develop a vaccine in the shortest possible time frame

Certain media reports note that six coronavirus vaccines are the final stage of human trials – three from China, one from the UK (AZN/Oxford), and two from the U.S. (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna).

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Billions invested

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is pouring billions of dollars into pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies like AstraZeneca (LON: AZN) to speed up coronavirus vaccine development and manufacturing. 

The branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services has also come to an agreement with Novavax, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Sanofi and GSK’s collaborative effort.

One of the main reasons citizens are suspicious about the coronavirus vaccine is this incredible speed at which it is being developed. According to a CNN poll, only 66% of American citizens would get vaccinated when it becomes available for public use. 

Even if everyone decides to get vaccinated, it’s very likely that it will not be completely effective. 

“This sense that when the vaccine comes, it will be over … it’s a dangerous promise,” said Heidi Tworek, a health communications expert at the University of British Columbia. 

“The truth is, we’ve only ever eliminated one disease through vaccines, and that was smallpox and it took hundreds of years.”

AZN setback 

The British drugmaker AstraZeneca was recently forced to suspend all late-stage trials on its COVID-19 vaccine after a British patient experienced an unspecified illness.

Following the AZN setback, analysts believe that two U.S.-based firms are at the front of the line.  AZN put trials on hold so that an independent data committee can study the safety data. In the meantime, trials have been resumed

“People fall ill for a multitude of reasons, and the project team will now be reviewing in depth what is the cause of this person’s illness and whether it is linked to having been given the vaccine or not,” said Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology.

The British pharma giant signed an agreement with the UK and U.S. governments to deliver at least 2 billion doses of vaccine.

BMO’s analyst George Farmer described the AZN situation as a “serious adverse event” that will likely eliminate them from the sprint race.

“The serious adverse event leading to clinical hold of Astra Zeneca’s Phase 3 trial evaluating AZD1222 highlights the importance of conducting large randomized trials designed to confirm safety and efficacy of any prophylactic vaccine intended for the masses. Although details are scarce, we think it is possible that the apparent case of transverse myelitis in this trial (as we read in the press) could, in fact, be related to vaccine administration,” Farmer wrote in a note to clients.

Who’s winning?

The public doesn’t have enough information from China to predict when one of their vaccines could be rolled out. In the West, it seems that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) are leading the vaccine front.

Similar to AZN, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and BioNTech agreed to supply the European Commission with 200 million doses of BNT162 mRNA-based vaccine. The companies will start supplying vaccines by the end of 2020, after they acquire approval from regulators. 

Record speed to human trials – COVID 19 vaccine development (Source: CNN)

Under the terms of the agreement, the EU will have an option to buy an additional 100 million doses. The contract talks between the suppliers and the EC is scheduled to begin. 

According to reports, Pfizer and BioNTech are optimistic on the gathered data on BNT162by vaccine candidate. The immunization data on a particular species of monkeys with BNT162b2 showed powerful antiviral effects against the SARS-CoV-2.

Moderna, another frontrunner, has reportedly decreased the intensity in Phase 3 clinical trial testing for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273. It seems that the slowdown is not caused by a serious incident, like in the AZN case, but rather the company’s commitment to increase diversity in the clinical trial testing phase.

Russia has also been developing its own vaccine and on August 11, President Vladimir Putin announced the registration of a vaccine called Sputnik V, the first one to be approved for public use. Russia hasn’t disclosed scientific data on its developments.

“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Some believe that this kind of procedure acceleration will not happen in the US and Europe, whose regulators have much stricter safety and efficiency standards when it comes to vaccine developments. 

Summary

Governments around the world invested billions of dollars in a race to develop a vaccine for coronavirus in under one year, a record time in terms of vaccine developments. According to multiple reports, it seems that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are leading the vaccine race. 

In case concrete data from the last-stage trials is published, we may witness a sharp rally in shares of the company that receives the license to roll out the vaccine. In this scenario, shares of its competitors are likely to plunge. 

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