Once-Bright Light Novavax Stares Into a Dimming Future as Vaccine Also-Ran

Much of the time, I suspect, analysts who give a bearish take on a particular company do so because they have some level of disdain for it, no matter how minor. But that’s not the case with Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX). After an initial hesitation for the investment narrative around NVAX stock, I’ve supported its bullish thesis. That change of heart came about because of the science.

A needle rests on a reflective table next two clear glass vials of a clear liquid.
Source: Shutterstock

As you know, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries performed a global pivot to address the novel coronavirus pandemic. Here, the primary concern aside from safety was time. Typically, it takes years to research, develop and distribute a vaccine. We didn’t have years, we had months. Surprisingly, despite the U.S. arguably bungling the crisis, we pulled through with Operation Warp Speed.

So, let’s give credit where it’s due. Personally, I thought the Trump administration handled the crisis chaotically and haphazardly. But the former president marshaled the powers of the U.S. in a most unprecedented manner. Sure enough, NVAX stock was a beneficiary. The underlying company was once on the brink of implosion. Then came Covid-19’s early attack and Novavax was one of the promising vaccine frontrunners.

True, the time component I just mentioned incentivized the case for Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA), which utilized the messenger-RNA approach. But the problem was that the Food and Drug Administration had never approved nucleic-acid-based vaccines. Though levering a tremendous rapid-manufacturing advantage, mRNA-based vaccines are experimental.

That gave a distinct tip of the hat to Novavax and by logical deduction, NVAX stock. Going with a subunit approach, Novavax was working with proven and approved science. For example, the hepatitis B vaccine is a subunit type. This knowledge would also give the public some reassurances that big pharma wasn’t going to pull a Dr. Frankenstein act.

NVAX Stock Gassed Out Before the Finish

If this were any other outbreak, I think NVAX stock would be the most compelling idea among the pharmaceutical rivals. Again, the underlying company was working with a proven platform. But safety wasn’t the only concern here. Government bodies throughout the world were under the clock to save lives.

I’m not suggesting that Pfizer and Moderna compromised because science backs up their efficacy and safety claims. But the reality is that their mRNA vaccines had the rapid-manufacturing attribute that pushed them to the top. And because of this victory, it’s conceivable that the scientific community will explore mRNA vaccines as frontline solutions for the next pandemic.

That’s why banking on NVAX stock to address the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in other countries is as viable a prospect as it once was. The world watched the resounding success of Pfizer and Moderna. Yes, many hiccups occurred. Also, Pfizer’s vaccine in particular requires ultra-cold storage, which is problematic for many underfunded national healthcare systems.

Nevertheless, it’s Pfizer and Moderna that got the ball rolling, with millions of people vaccinated within a year or so of the U.S. Covid crisis. Novavax on the other hand? While Novavax was performing Phase III trials, the federal government had already authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines for emergency use.

I suppose that millions of people can wait for the Novavax vaccine. But they can also look at the hundreds of millions who took the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Outside of a few cases of worrying side effects, mRNA vaccines have thus far proven exceptionally safe and effective.

Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that fully vaccinated people can largely resume normal activities. Increasingly, then, there’s less incentive to wait around for Novavax’s proven approach when the incumbents are outperforming on all core fronts.

The Next Pandemic May Be the Kill Shot

While virtually all Americans are undoubtedly eager to return to normal, the lessons that Covid-19 imposed should not go ignored. And if the public forgets about this crisis, the international health community certainly will not.

As you might expect, epidemiologists are busy identifying potential new viral hotspots. Of course, the philosophy here is that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Still, biological threats are notoriously difficult to decipher.

Should another outbreak occur, the pharmaceutical industry will be ready, with Covid-19 being a baptism of fire. But they’ll probably be ready with mRNA vaccines, not subunits. And that might turn out to be the ultimate headwind for NVAX stock.

On the date of publication, Josh Enomoto did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

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.


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