Throughout this novel coronavirus pandemic, all Americans have suffered, either directly or indirectly. Of that, there is zero doubt. However, what is also an absolute fact is that communities of color and especially Black Americans have suffered disproportionately. But in a profound twist of fate, Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) has a clear opportunity not only to help the American public, but also to help heal racial divisions. Therefore, any investor – even those not interested in MRNA stock – should watch this space.
Due to recent developments which I’ll soon dive into, Moderna may now have the lead in the coronavirus vaccination race. As you may have heard, AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) paused its vaccine trial when a U.K. participant came down with an unexplained illness. It’s true that AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, have resumed trials. Nevertheless, this creates concerns about the company and the format of its vaccine candidate.
Currently, and to my knowledge, Moderna has no such setbacks with its clinical trials. And because the company is experimenting with a groundbreaking vaccine type – if approved, it will be the first of its kind – MRNA stock stands to skyrocket just on that sole victory.
However, if this vaccine is effective for people of color and specifically Black people, Moderna can likewise make history by doing something substantive for race relations. As the media has widely reported, communities of color have been devastated by Covid-19. But health outcomes represent just one component of this crisis. Black unemployment was 13% in August, by far the highest among major racial demographics.
To its credit, Moderna has pushed for racial and ethnic diversity, which in my opinion bolsters the case for MRNA stock. Here’s why.
MRNA Stock Is Scientifically the Most Viable Play
While we consistently hear push back from those opposed to calls for racial justice through statements like, “we’re all Americans,” in reality, such sentiments are distractions. Yes, all Americans share the same citizenship. But that doesn’t mean we all have the same or similar life outcomes.
Think about it. Does the simple fact that a group of people working in the same company automatically eliminate tensions regarding compensation disparities? I would think not. Well, it’s the same concept with race in America. Sadly, the pandemic has accelerated racial disparities. For instance, while Blacks have the worst employment outcome thus far, whites have the best.
In this context, then, it’s not enough for a vaccine to merely work. It must work and be accessible to communities of color. Again, Moderna has stressed the importance of diversity in its clinical trials, which puts MRNA stock in a positive light. However, the key roadblock to socially holistic vaccinations has been Black communities’ deep-seated distrust of the pharmaceutical industry.
As many know from our history books, the U.S. has experimented on Black people without their consent. Even more ethically problematic is the case of Henrietta Lacks. A poor Black woman, Lacks sought treatment for her cervical cancer. A sample of her cancer cells retrieved during a biopsy was sent to a tissue lab. There, scientists discovered that Lacks’ cells doubled every 20 to 24 hours while all other cell samples died.
What probably most Americans don’t realize is that the cell samples from Henrietta Lacks formed the foundation for pivotal medical research. However, this did not do Lacks any good as she tragically passed away from her cancer.
Decades later, America through Moderna has an opportunity to make things right; hence, the powerful narrative driving MRNA stock.
Nucleic-Acid Based Vaccines May Be the Breakthrough
Granted, this is a heavy subject to pin on Moderna. Of course, we just don’t know if this vaccine will pan out. Nevertheless, an opportunity is present to deliver profound solutions on multiple levels.
First, the coronavirus vaccine in the context of this pandemic mostly incentivizes nucleic-acid vaccines. Primarily, I say this because other vaccine types likely won’t hold muster. For instance, here’s something we can probably agree on: traditional vaccines are not the answer.
Yes, they work, hence the descriptor traditional. But the process of injecting a weakened virus (or a dead one) takes too much time due to extended manufacturing requirements. Obviously, time is a luxury we don’t have.
Next up is subunit vaccines. This is where protein fragments (subunits) of the target virus are injected into the patient. From there, the body initiates a process to create antibodies which block the virus from infecting healthy cells. While one of the frontrunners, Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX), utilizes this vaccine type, the main challenge is that manufacturing the nanoparticle subunits is more expensive — remember, a vaccine must be accessible to all American communities — and lengthier than developing the oligonucleotides (short DNA fragments) associated with nucleic-acid vaccines.
If subunits fall short, then viral-vectored vaccines may hold the key. Initially, this format appeared very promising because the concept is somewhat similar to nucleic-acid vaccines. But the main problem with viral vectors has always been the vectors themselves. In this process, bioengineers insert the genetic sequence of the target virus within a virus, in AstraZeneca’s case, the adenovirus.
If you think about it, it’s brilliant bioengineering. Basically, you use the infectious power of a virus to kill a virus. But here’s the problem – sometimes, patients may react negatively to the carrier virus. This was the situation when Merck (NYSE:MRK) experimented with an adenoviral vector for its AIDS vaccine candidate.
I’m not going to speculate that the same thing happened with AstraZeneca’s U.K. patient. However, the difficult history of adenoviral vectors draws skepticism for this approach.
And that leaves us with nucleic-acid vaccines, or specifically for Moderna, messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. Here, a lipid shell carrying the mRNA basically provides the body with a “recipe” to create antibodies against the target virus. Currently, it’s appealing because it does away with using a virus as a vector.
Again, as far as I’m aware, Moderna has not had a problem with this approach. Nor from my understanding have other biotech companies utilizing this method, such as Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO).
Moreover, if Moderna’s vaccine shows no adverse effects, the company can then bank on one of mRNA vaccines’ biggest advantages: scalability. That will be huge for the U.S., but particularly for Black communities.
Like Anything Covid-Related, a Caveat
I want to be clear: none of what I wrote above is a wholesale endorsement of MRNA stock. Certainly, I’m excited about its potential to not only provide a solution, but to help the demographic groups most affected. But with anything related to science, and specifically Covid-19, you want to be careful.
On the scientific front, investors should be aware that mRNA-based vaccines have never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration because they are unreliable. According to a report published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, mRNA “is intrinsically unstable and prone to degradation by nucleases.”
So, please don’t buy MRNA stock thinking that this is the path to riches. It could just as easily fail. Therefore, I want to throw that caveat out there.
Still, if you’re asking me if I feel optimistic about MRNA stock as a vaccine play after examining the science, the answer is yes. As I mentioned above, the injection of mRNA involves a lipid shell, not a virus. Theoretically – and let me strongly emphasize the word theoretically – this should help avoid an unfavorable immune response by most patients.
For full disclosure, I personally believe that Covid-19 treatments, not vaccines, provide the most realistic solution for the pandemic. But if you’re exclusively interested in the vaccine space, Moderna offers powerful, compelling narratives.
On the date of publication, Josh Enomoto did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare.