Key Takeaways

  • Novavax begins human trials for COVID-19 vaccine
  • NVAX shares up 1058.54% ytd on vaccine hopes, CEPI backing
  • US pharma giant Merck enters race with acquisition and collab

Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biotech company Novavax announced yesterday it has begun enrolling its first human participants in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial. Preliminary immunogenicity (ability to provoke an immune response) and safety results from the Phase 1 portion of the trial are expected in July 2020. Novavax is hoping the proprietary nanoparticle technology and Matrix‑M adjuvant used in its promising flu vaccine, NanoFlu, will help create an effective novel coronavirus vaccine. 

Novavax stock is up 17% today on the news and is up over 1000% year-to-date, but this isn't based on its progress alone. Remember Novavax is the same firm receiving $388 million in funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The Oslo-based foundation focuses on vaccine development and was founded by billionaire Bill Gates in 2017. "Vaccines provide our best hope of permanently defeating this pandemic, so it is encouraging to see rapid progress being made in the development of Novavax’ vaccine candidate," said Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, in the press release. CEPI has given much smaller amounts ranging from $1 million to $9 million to others working on coronavirus vaccines, including Inovio, Moderna and CureVac.

Today U.S. pharma giant Merck threw its hat into the ring with three initiatives to help end the pandemic. It has bought Vienna-based Themis Bioscience, which is developing a vaccine, and collaborating with non-profit IAVI and Ridgeback Bio on a vaccine and antiviral candidate, respectively. As of May 22, there are 10 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation and 114 candidates in preclinical evaluation, according to WHO. The 10 in the clinical evaluation stage belong to:

  1. CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology
  2. Moderna/NIAID
  3. Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  4. Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm
  5. Sinovac
  6. Institute of Medical Biology/Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences
  7. University of Oxford/AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India
  8. Novavax
  9. BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer
  10. Inovio Pharmaceuticals 

Although we're still months, if not years, from a safe vaccine available to the general population, the Novavax news is contributing to the market surge today. "As is the financial market’s want these days though, even the slimmest of positive news on the COVID-19 front trigger a bullish immune response and another wave of the peak-virus trade," wrote OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley. "That came on several fronts today. U.S. Memorial weekend saw the U.S. out in force enjoying their post lockdown freedoms. Japan in addition to announcing more billions in stimulus, signaled that the final lockdowns over their largest cities are ending. Even U.S.-China trade tensions have been pushed off the front pages, crushed beneath the tank tracks of the peak-virus trade’s momentum."