Life sciences report highlights implications of early COVID-19 vaccines data

FinnCap’s latest Rude Health Life Sciences Sector Report focuses on the implications of early COVID-19 vaccine data. This comes as Pfizer and BioNTech have announced their COVID-19 vaccine candidate has so far been found to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Mark Brewer, Director of Research for finnCap, commented: “While the results are very promising, we believe there was a large over-reaction in the market in response to the news. It should not have been unexpected – we hoped for positive results from vaccine manufacturers this month, and we hope there is more to come, as AstraZeneca-Oxford University and Moderna are also due to announce initial results this month, and overall there are 11 vaccines in Phase III testing.

“However, these early results do not diminish the urgent need for COVID-19 treatments and testing, which will still be required for years to come. That is why we consider the price falls to stocks such as Synairgen (-39%), Avacta (-36%), genedrive (-38%), Omega Diagnostics (- 25%) and Open Orphan (-9%) to offer good buying opportunities.

“For example, for Synairgen, countries will still want to stockpile SNG001 as there is currently no broad spectrum antiviral and there is no data on how effective the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is on elderly or sick people. For Avacta and genedrive, there is a continued need for rapid and convenient tests. For Omega Diagnostics, antibody tests could be used to confirm immunity. And for Open Orphan, challenge studies could be used to perform head-to-head clinical trials between first generation and the eventual second generation COVID-19 vaccines.”

Some of the other significant findings in the report include:

  • If approved, Pfizer expects to produce 50m doses globally in 2020. The UK is due to receive 10m doses (enough for 5m people) by the end of the year, but the first distribution of a vaccine is unlikely until 2021. A further 30m doses are expected next year.

 

  • Full results have not been released or peer-reviewed. Multiple unknowns remain, including its efficacy in certain demographics – such as the elderly who react less well to immunisation. While the vaccine may prevent illness in response to SARS-CoV-2, it is unknown whether it will prevent asymptomatic infection – whether it will prevent virus shedding, and therefore have an effect on community transmission. Duration of protection is also unknown, as are long-term safety implications.

 

  • Vaccine manufacturing is complex, and every batch has to be quality assured before release. This vaccine requires two doses, three weeks apart, before it can be effective. It must be stored at ultra-cold storage, below -80°C. A roll-out campaign is likely to be slow, and will require many months to cover a significant proportion of the population. Anti-vaccination movements, and general public concerns over the rapid speed of COVID-19 vaccine development also pose challenges for vaccine uptake.

 

  • Not a silver bullet – Herd immunity would require 60-70% of the global population to be immune (billions of people). Even if a vaccine is perfectly effective, this will take years. Until then, the vast majority of the population will need to rely on treatments and testing for COVID-19. A vaccine is a major tool in the fight against this disease, but it cannot be the only one. Demand for effective treatments and convenient testing outstrips supply and should continue to do so into 2021 and beyond. Overall: a vaccine roll-out will take many months, while cases, hospitalisations and deaths continue to surge and, as such, little has changed with regards to the COVID-19 opportunity, despite this very positive news.

Finncap’s research can be accessed here.

Image credit: Lucas Blazek

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