If you’re betting on the stock of a vaccine maker, it may help to not look too hard at how green the grass is in the neighboring pasture.
Pfizer shares jumped as much as 5.6% Monday after the pharmaceutical giant and its German partner BioNTech
received fast-track status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for two experimental vaccines. It’s self-evident that regulators will want to speed a viable inoculation for Covid-19 to market as swiftly as possible. Nonetheless, markets cheered the news, and the rally surely came as a relief to Pfizer shareholders who’ve seen the drugmaker’s stock suffer this year on worry that the suspension of so many elective surgeries, cancer screenings and other non-virus-related medical procedures have held back demand for most of its products.
Pfizer’s vaccine candidates are based on so-called mRNA technology, an area that’s mainly been seen as the domain of rival Moderna Inc. The biotech company’s shares have surged on hopes that its mRNA vaccines will deliver, more than tripling in value since the beginning of the year. The stock tacked on a gain of as much as 19% Monday after an analyst said the company could see annual sales of more than $5 billion. Some on Wall Street have been warier of Moderna, given that it is a young company with no other approved products on the market.
All the same, Moderna seems to be shaking off the perception that it is an outsider. The company is being added to the Nasdaq 100 index later this month, a signal of acceptance that will boost demand for its shares from portfolio managers whose funds track the benchmark. Moderna, which in its earlier days known primarily for a tantalizing personalized approach to fighting cancer, has become something that few biotechs born in the labs of Cambridge ever do: a household name.
Meanwhile, other companies are trying to stake a claim to finding more effective treatments, and there was investor-cheering news on that front on Monday as well. Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis drug giant, gained as much as 2.2% after it said that it and its research partner Junshi Biosciences had injected 40 patients with their Covid-19 antibody treatment. Companies including Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have also made finding an antibody-based treatment a priority. It got a boost from Lilly’s trial moving forward, rising as much as 2.1% on Monday.
The gains all come against the backdrop of a broader stock market that refuses to quit. Though some states are seeing severe new outbreaks of Covid-19, many traders have been able to find silver linings in the data, or at least to have convinced themselves of as much. And even if the wider market is to pull back, there’s reason to believe drugmakers could keep on gaining ground, as more dribbles of data emerge from the lab.
Still, finding effective new drugs and vaccines is hard work—as hard as finding a fair way to price one’s expectations about the future. The road ahead is likely to be bumpy.