Pfizer Vaccine Updates: Possibly Easier Storage, Efficacy Against South African Strain

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Last week, there were two positive developments relating to Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and its German partner BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, and one possible negative development. Firstly, Pfizer says based on internal testing that its vaccine can tolerate warmer temperatures than initially specified, possibly making it easier to handle and distribute. Under current protocol, the vaccine is being stored and transported at ultra-cold temperatures of -80 to -60 degrees Celsius until five days before use, calling for specialized equipment and a longer thawing period. However, the company is now asking the FDA to allow the shot to be stored for up to two weeks at -25 to -15 degrees Celsius, enabling the use of more standard freezers.  This could make the shot more accessible in rural areas and emerging markets that don’t have special freezers. That said, rival Moderna’s shot is still easier to handle, as it can be stored at standard freezer temperatures for as long as six months and remain refrigerated for up to 30 days.

Secondly, per a study conducted on 9,000 medical staff in Israel, a single dose of the Pfizer shot alone was about 85% effective in preventing Covid-19 infection between two and four weeks after inoculation. This is not far off from the roughly 95% efficacy showed under the two-dose regimen. This could effectively help to vaccinate more people quickly if the second dose of the shot can potentially be delayed or perhaps even avoided altogether. For perspective, Pfizer is looking to produce as many as 2 billion doses of the shot this year.

Separately, based on a lab study, Pfizer says that the South African strain of the novel coronavirus could cut the protective antibodies produced by its vaccine by two-thirds. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that the shot will not be effective against the new strain, it is concerning. Considering this, the company is exploring developing an updated version of its shot or a booster shot.

See our indicative theme on Covid-19 Vaccine stocks for more details on the performance of key U.S.-based companies working on  Covid-19 vaccines.

[Updated 12/3/2020] Emergency Use in the United Kingdom

Pfizer‘s (NYSE: PFE) Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom, with initial shots likely to be given as soon as next week. The U.K is the first western country to ratify the shot and the country is expected to be allotted between four million to five million doses of the vaccine this year. For a perspective, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech intend to manufacture up to 50 million doses this year. The U.K. rollout will be a crucial test of the logistics and distribution of the vaccine – which needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures using custom-made vaccine freezer boxes – and should give a sense of how effectively the company can scale up deployment globally. Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization with the U.S FDA, which is likely to conduct its review on December 10th, with the vaccine likely to be available in limited quantities post that.

See our indicative theme on Covid-19 Vaccine stocks for more details on the performance of key U.S.-based companies working on  Covid-19 vaccines.

As we’ve noted previously, the Covid vaccine is unlikely to meaningfully move the needle for Pfizer stock (see our update below). However, Pfizer stock still looks attractive at current levels. The availability of Pfizer & other Covid vaccines could mark the beginning of the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reduced doctors’ visits for other ailments and delayed patients from seeking care.  As vaccines are deployed and the recovery gathers pace, it should help Pfizer’s Biopharma segment, which includes oncology drugs, such as Ibrance, vaccines, such as Prevnar, and Pfizer’s newly approved biosimilars for some of the blockbuster drugs, including Humira and Avastin, aiding the stock. Our dashboard ‘Buy Or Sell Pfizer Stock’ provides the key numbers behind our thinking. Also, see our analysis Here’s Why Pfizer Stock Looks Inviting At $39 Levels

[Updated 11/10/2020] Why Pfizer’s Vaccine Won’t Move The Needle For The Stock

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and its German partner BioNTech indicated that their Coronavirus vaccine, dubbed BNT162b2, was over 90% effective at preventing Covid-19 infections among volunteers, based on early data from phase 3 trials. The results are surprisingly strong, considering that the U.S. FDA had set a baseline efficacy of just 50% for the approval for Covid-19 vaccines. While there is a possibility that the efficacy rate of Pfizer’s vaccine could change as more data comes in, the numbers are no doubt encouraging. The companies are on track to file an emergency use application with the U.S. FDA later this month if pending data indicate that the vaccine is safe. [1] The companies intend to manufacture up to 50 million doses this year, and as much as 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Two shots of the vaccine will be required per person.

While Pfizer stock was up by almost 8% following the news, we think it’s unlikely that the vaccine will meaningfully move the needle for the company for multiple reasons. (Related: Are Covid Vaccine Stocks Worth Investing In?) For perspective, Pfizer has agreed to supply the U.S. government with the vaccine at about $19.50 per dose, and it’s possible that average prices could be well below this, considering that pricing might be lower in emerging markets. Also, vaccines traditionally have lower profitability versus prescription drugs. Combined with the large public interest in facilitating vaccine access, these margins may face even more downward pressure. Considering that the vaccine is co-developed with BioNTech, any profits will likely be shared.

Competition is also likely to mount as there are likely to be several more successful vaccine candidates from other companies in the coming quarters. For example, clinical-stage biotech Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA), which also uses an mRNA-based technology like the Pfizer vaccine, is slated to report efficacy data in the coming weeks. (related: How Will The Covid-19 Vaccine Impact Moderna’s EPS?) Pfizer’s vaccine could also face logistical issues, considering that the vaccine needs to be stored at a temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, vaccines being developed by the likes of Oxford- AstraZeneca, Novavax, and others can be held at regular refrigerated temperatures. This could potentially limit the use of Pfizer’s vaccine to clinics and hospitals that have the appropriate storage facilities.

See our indicative theme of  Covid-19 Vaccine stockswhich includes U.S.-listed pharma and biotech companies. The theme is up by about 630% year-to-date versus about 12% for the S&P 500.

[Updated 11/4/2020] Covid-19 Vaccine stocks

Our indicative theme of Covid-19 Vaccine stocks – which includes a diverse set of U.S.-based pharma and biotech companies developing Covid vaccines – is up by about 560% year-to-date, on an equally weighted basis, compared to the S&P 500 which has gained just about 4% over the same period. While most vaccine stocks declined last week, amid a broader sell-off in the markets, they are likely to come back into the spotlight as efficacy data from late-stage trials is expected from frontrunners Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) in the coming weeks. Below is a bit more on the companies in our theme of Coronavirus Vaccine stocks and their relative performance.

Novavax (NVAX), a vaccine development company, began late-stage trials of its Covid vaccine in the U.K in September, and large-scale phase 3 trials are due to begin in the U.S. and Mexico this month. While the company doesn’t have any other products on the market yet, its flu vaccine NanoFlu could be ready for potential FDA approval. The company has received about $1.6 billion in funding from the Federal government. The stock has soared 2,000% year-to-date.

NVAX

Moderna (MRNA) , a clinical-stage biotech company, is carrying out phase 3 trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, completing enrollment of 30,000 participants. The company is likely to have data on whether its vaccine works or not by this month, and has noted that it would seek emergency approval from the FDA if the vaccine is at least 70% effective. The stock is up 253% this year.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ): Unlike most other vaccine candidates, which are likely to require two shots, J&J is targeting a single-dose vaccine. While the company had to pause trials in mid-October after an illness was reported in a volunteer, the company is now preparing to resume trials.  The stock is down by -5.1% this year.

Pfizer (PFE) is working with German partner BioNTech on a Covid-19 vaccine. The company is likely to have efficacy data from late-stage trials available shortly. The company could supply about 40 million doses in the United States in 2020 if the data is positive and regulators approve the vaccine. The stock is down by about -7.6% this year.

What if you’re looking for a more balanced portfolio instead? Here’s a high-quality portfolio to beat the market, with over 100% return since 2016, versus about 55% for the S&P 500. Comprised of companies with strong revenue growth, healthy profits, lots of cash, and low risk, it has outperformed the broader market year after year, consistently.

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Notes:
  1. Pfizer Press Release, November 9, 2020 []
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