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Could This Cheap COVID Vaccine Spell Doom for Pfizer and Moderna?

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) stand to make billions of dollars from their respective COVID-19 vaccines this year. The drugmakers hope to generate substantial recurring revenue going forward as well. However, a new COVID-19 vaccine is in development that could be a lot less expensive than either of these messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.

In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on April 7, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss whether this cheap vaccine candidate might even spell doom for Pfizer and Moderna.

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Keith Speights: The New York Times reported on Monday that there's an experimental COVID vaccine called NVD-HXP-S. This vaccine is entering early stage clinical studies in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. This vaccine uses the good old fashion approach of using chicken eggs to grow the key ingredient for the vaccine. It could be a lot cheaper than any of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently on the market.

Brian, do you think that this vaccine could be bad news for companies like Pfizer, and Moderna, which stand to make close to $20 billion or more this year from their COVID-19 vaccines?

Brian Orelli: Yeah. Given the large number of vaccines expected to be available, basically anything extra is bad news, and if it's at a lower cost or cheaper, that's even worse.

This is really interesting technology. We grow vaccines in chicken eggs and typically for something like influenza, the flu, we've used the native virus. But this technology is actually using avian virus that expresses the coronavirus protein.

The advantage there is that because it's the avian virus it now grows the heck of a lot better in eggs than that human flu virus would, and so you can get a heck of a lot more doses per egg. We'll have to see whether this acts as the antibodies in humans. The preclinical work in animal model seems pretty good, but there's always a chance that transitioning from animals to humans might not produce the same results.

The other issue I think here is timing. They're going to finish the phase 1 in July, and so what's the infection rate going to look like at that point once most people in the US are vaccinated.

You noted that they're doing the clinical trials in Brazil, and Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam, so maybe they're trying to go after the areas where they're most likely to have infections. But then is the FDA going to allow clinical trials run there to get drugs approved in the US, and if not, then can you get enough people infected in the US once most people already have the vaccine?

Speights: It obviously remains to be seen what kind of efficacy this vaccine could deliver. I think to compete in developed nations like the US, and in Europe, it's going to have to achieve a pretty high efficacy, don't you think, to displace vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna?

Orelli: Yeah. Anything in the 60-70 percent range probably would be difficult when Pfizer and Moderna are up at 95.

Speights: Like you said, Brian, the phase 1 study is expected to wrap up in July. This isn't something that's going to impact Pfizer, or Moderna, or any of the other major vaccine players for that matter, this year. This is at best a 2022 type of factor, right?

Orelli: Yeah. Then as we've talked about many times, it's basically, do we need extra boosters for the variants? The other thing here is, I'm not sure how quickly they can transition this virus into the variants. I think it seems like it might be fairly simple steps to make a variant version of the vaccine, but I'm not 100 percent sure there.

Speights: I do think the story underscores the uncertainty related to the long-term COVID-19 vaccine market. There are just so many questions there, and I think that's why some of the stocks of companies that are making the vaccines haven't moved up even higher, is because of these uncertainties.

Orelli: I think Moderna is down substantially from its all-time highest, and I think that's probably one of their reasons is due to the uncertainty of how much they're going to be able to sell, not this year, but next year and beyond.

Brian Orelli, PhD has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Keith Speights owns shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool recommends Moderna Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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