There’s been a slew of good news on the coronavirus vaccine front lately.
“We are encouraged by the clinical data of BNT162b1, one of four mRNA constructs we are evaluating clinically, and for which we have positive, preliminary topline findings,” said Kathrine Jansen, head of Pfizer’s vaccine research and development. “We are dedicated to developing potentially groundbreaking vaccines and medicines, and in the face of this global health crisis, we approach this goal with the utmost urgency.”
And this week, the two companies inked a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deliver 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine if it proves safe and effective – to the tune of $1.95 billion.
“The pandemic has caused an unprecedented public health crisis, making it more important than ever that industry, government and funding entities join forces to defeat the novel coronavirus together. We are honored to partner with Operation Warp Speed to move our vaccine candidate forward with extraordinary urgency in the quest to provide vital protection to our nation’s population,” said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer of Novavax. “We are grateful to the U.S. government for its confidence in our technology platform, and are working tirelessly to develop and produce a vaccine for this global health crisis.”
Then Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) released promising data on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, saying that it produced a “robust” immune response, generating neutralizing antibodies in all 45 patients in its phase 1 trial.
The data “puts us on a positive path towards a larger phase three trial with which we hope to demonstrate the safety and efficacy,” said Moderna chief medical officer Tal Zaks. “I believe we have an ethical obligation to advance this vaccine as fast as possible given the unmet need on one hand and given what science enables us to do on the other. I think it is incumbent upon us to do this in a manner that’s responsible, judicious and accounts for the emerging understanding of the safety profile and I think we’re doing that by enduring that our phase three is a large phase three.”
And at the beginning of this week, AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) published new data that showed promising immune response in its large, early-stage human trail of the coronavirus vaccine the pharmaceutical giant developed with Oxford University.
“The immune system has two ways of finding and attacking pathogens – antibody and T cell responses,” said Oxford Professor Andrew Pollard in a statement. “This vaccine is intended to induce both, so it can attack the virus when it’s circulating in the body, as well as attacking infected cells. We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period.” Adrian Hill, head of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, said in an interview, “We are seeing very good immune responses, not just on neutralizing antibodies but of T-cells as well. We’re stimulating both arms of the immune system.”
But amid this stampede of new data, analysts say that, while promising, the results are still very preliminary. And while comparisons remain difficult, analysts say some of the companies in the vaccine race are superior investments.
“Only ongoing randomized trials will show if the magnitude of immune response [the AstraZeneca vaccine induced], however it is measured, will suffice to offer (long term) protection,” said UBS analyst Michael Leucheten in a note this week.
SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges, however, likes Pfizer given its vaccine showed a clear T-clear response in patients who received it.
“While the debate about how much T-cell immunity contributes to the COVID disease protection is still ongoing, we are encouraged by the data,” Porges said. “The T-cell response data are likely to be viewed as stronger than Moderna’s publication.”
But picking a winner, or a leading candidate, among all the vaccine makers is a challenge now given the small size of the studies that have been performed and the fact that the data at this point is preliminary.
Still, Raymond James analyst Steven Seedhouse took a crack at a ranking, putting Pfizer and its vaccine first, Moderna second, and AstraZeneca third.