The coronavirus outbreak continues to spread with the total number of infected cases crossing 6.3 million and a death toll of at least 189,000 in the United States. In such a scenario, the desperate wait for a vaccine to combat the pandemic is inevitable.
Meanwhile, in a historic move, the chief executives of nine drug companies have signed a joint pledge to not submit vaccine candidates for FDA approval before the successful demonstration of the safety and efficacy in large clinical trials. The companies signing the pledge included AstraZeneca (AZN), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRCK), Moderna (MRNA) and Novavax (NVAX) along with those which are working in collaboration -- Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech, and Sanofi (SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
The pledge read “we, the undersigned biopharmaceutical companies, want to make clear our on-going commitment to developing and testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 in accordance with high ethical standards and sound scientific principles,” per a CNN article.
It is being believed that the pledge is going to restore the faith of public in the vaccine development process in a situation when these companies are facing immense pressure to release the vaccine early. It is worth noting that President Trump had urged U.S. states to get ready to distribute a potential COVID-19 vaccine by Nov 1, two days before the presidential election, per the sources.
In this regard, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on NBC's Today show that "with increasing public concerns about the processes we are using to develop these vaccines, and even more importantly, the processes that will be used to evaluate these vaccines, we saw it as critical to come out and reiterate our commitment that we will develop our products, our vaccines, using the highest ethical standards and the most scientific [rigorous] processes," per a CNN article.
Current Coronavirus Vaccine Scenario
According to WHO, around 170 coronavirus vaccines are in the development process globally, with 33 candidates reaching the clinical trials (per The Wall Street Journal article).
AstraZeneca which is developing the coronavirus vaccine in partnership with Oxford University has recently paused global trials, including the late-stage trials. Some unexplained illness observed in a study participant is being considered as a reason behind it. Notably, the company is one of the three vaccine developers to begin the Phase 3 trials, which were being conducted in United States, Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
Moving ahead, Moderna, which is developing this vaccine in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has begun the Phase 3 clinical trial, encompassing 30,000 healthy participants at around 100 research sites in the United States.
Pfizer in collaboration with German biotech firm BioNTech has also started its late-stage study on a coronavirus vaccine. The trial comprises around 30,000 participants and will be conducted at nearly 120 sites globally.
Novavax has already enrolled the first volunteer in the phase II portion of its ongoing phase I/II study, which is evaluating the immunogenicity and safety of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373 in the last month.
Sanofi is working on two coronavirus vaccine candidates. One candidate, to be produced on the back of an existing platform that develops vaccines to treat flu, will use an adjuvant made by GlaxoSmithKline to boost its efficacy. The other is being developed with U.S. company Translate Bio, which relies on a different technology known as mRNA. The first vaccine is already undergoing human-phase trial, while the second will soon enter clinical trials.
Biotech ETFs That Might Suffer
The pledge from the vaccine developers might also mean that a delay in the release might be observed. Therefore, we discuss a few ETFs that might suffer in such a scenario:
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF ( IBB Quick Quote IBB - Free Report)
This fund seeks to provide exposure to U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical stocks and tracks the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index. Holding 207 securities, the fund has an AUM of $8.81 billion with an expense ratio of 0.46% (read:
Moderna ETFs to Gain on New Positive COVID-19 Vaccine Data). SPDR S&P Biotech ETF ( XBI Quick Quote XBI - Free Report)
The fund seeks daily investment results, before fees and expenses, which match the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry Index. It holds about 133 securities in its basket. It has AUM of $5.10 billion and an expense ratio of 0.35% (read:
Beat the Fed Minutes Blues With These ETF Areas). First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology ETF ( FBT Quick Quote FBT - Free Report)
The fund measures the performance of a cross section of companies in the biotechnology industry that are primarily involved in the use of biological processes to develop products or provide services. It holds about 31 securities in its basket. Its AUM is around $1.90 billion (read:
Red Hot ETF Areas Amid the Coronavirus Crisis). ARK Genomic Revolution ETF ( ARKG Quick Quote ARKG - Free Report)
This is an actively-managed fund. Companies within ARKG are focused on and are expected to substantially benefit from extending and enhancing the quality of human and other life by incorporating technological and scientific developments and advancements in genomics into their business. It generally holds about 30-50 securities in its basket. It has AUM of $1.87 billion and an expense ratio of 0.75% (read:
5 Sector ETFs That Have Gained More Than 50% This Year). VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF ( BBH Quick Quote BBH - Free Report)
The underlying MVIS US Listed Biotech 25 Index tracks the overall performance of companies involved in the development and production, marketing and sales of drugs based on genetic analysis and diagnostic equipment. It holds about 24 securities in its basket. Its AUM is $459.8 million and it has an expense ratio of 0.35%.
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