With all the news coming at us about COVID from all directions, it is very difficult to determine whether the news is truthful and to understand how it affects our situation. Educate yourself about this pandemic from numerous sources, and use common sense. In the brief post I published at https://bit.ly/2yefgnQ, I discuss the 4 stages or 4 pillars of getting to a COVID-free society, with rough and somewhat optimistic timeframes for each.
The 4 pillars (with timeframes) are as follows:
Protective equipment and safer societal norms (Ongoing and will continue to improve rapidly)
Better, more portable and less expensive diagnostics (Ongoing and will continue to improve to more faster, more accurate, more portable, and less expensive)
Antiv-COVID therapeutics (anectodal results ongoing, but first more controlled readouts in weeks and then continuing for months/years until we have a safe, reliable vaccine)
Anti-Coronavirus-SARS2 vaccine (Clinical trials have begun, but 2021 earliest for possible large, widespread, emergency and riskier use, possibly for most at-risk patients; then improved vaccine over years)
Considering these pillars, if you see a news story, you can identify the pillar it fits into, and then consider the advancement. Yesterday we had news about a lead vaccine CANDIDATE selection from Johnson and Johnson (https://bit.ly/2JqvJaD) (JnJ) and about the government sponsoring up to 5 vaccine candidates (J&J, Moderna sign deals with U.S. to produce huge quantity of possible coronavirus vaccines), investing $100s of millions in the JnJ effort, and investing in large scale production in the future when promising data emerges. The Reuters article quotes that "Experts have estimated it could be 12 to 18 months before a safe and effective vaccine wins regulatory approval." This is consistent with the optimistic time frame for pillar 4 above. It's excellent to see the U.S. government stepping in, in this way because it is going to take these aggressive investments and new processes to get pillar 4 to happen in this accelerated time frame. I would love to see the government stepping in, in this way now to accelerate production of N95 medical grade masks, but that's an issue for another article. Keep in mind that for vaccines, currently we only have "candidates." And that is what JnJ said. It's only a candidate, and the same for Moderna, who has a vaccine candidate that started clinical trials earlier this month, and is further along than the JnJ vaccine candidate, which JnJ hopes to have in clinical trials in September. You can read more details about the Moderna trial in our post here (https://bit.ly/2yefgnQ). At Amp we have followed and analyzed some of our more recent vaccine development for other viruses as investment opportunities. Vaccine development is typically a slow, difficult process that takes years of trying many candidates before one is identified that works and is safe. The speed at which we can find an efficacious CORONA vaccine depends in part on how rapidly coronavirus-SARS2 will change (mutate) in nature. Think or our challenges with getting an ideal influenza vaccine. Furthermore, we usually require more than 1 year of safety testing in a lot of people in clinical trials for a vaccine candidate before it has a chance of getting approved. Think of all the controversies we've had in the recent years about vaccine safety and compliance. However, with the BARDA announcement yesterday, and the fast work of companies like Moderna and JnJ, we have a chance of hitting the 12-18 month time frame, which would be amazing.
In sum, yesterday's vaccine developments are promising. They are necessary, aggressive steps to have the possibility of a vaccine that is given to 1000s of people in emergency, riskier use in 12 -18 months. At Amp we will likely look to identify the other top few vaccine companies that could potentially be the 5 or 6 candidates that BARDA agrees to support, because those could prove to be prudent stock investments in the coming months/years. We are cautious though, from an investor standpoint, because vaccine development is tricky, and as investments, we have not had good luck with vaccine companies.