Shares of vaccine maker Moderna (MRNA), a $26.5 billion company that lost half a billion dollars over the past year on sales of barely $50 million, are up more than four times from the $18-and-change price they sold for back at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis five months ago. And profits or no profits, they’re likely to go up a lot more today because of an announcement Moderna made after close of trading Tuesday.
Releasing an “interim analysis” of the results from a Phase 1 study of its mRNA-1273 vaccine against COVID-19 Tuesday evening, Moderna confirmed that the results now appear to be fully as good as they appeared to be when preliminarily released two months ago.
“Neutralizing antibody titers were observed in 100% of evaluated participants” regardless of whether they were given 250, 100, or only 25 micrograms (µg). The vaccine was found to be “generally safe and well-tolerated” among patients who received it, in two injections given 28 days apart. What’s more, patients dosed with 100 µg, the level selected for a Phase 3 trial of the vaccine set to begin on July 27, were found to have, on average, more antibodies in their blood than most patients fully-recovered from infection with the novel coronavirus. In short, Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine “induced rapid and strong immune responses against SARS-CoV-2.”
Side effects of mRNA-1273 were most commonly experienced by patients taking the second dose, and were generally moderate to mild in severity. About 80% of patients experienced fatigue, chills, or both after their second shot. About 60% of patients got headaches, and about 53% experienced myalgia (i.e. general muscle soreness). All patients — 100% — experienced some pain at the injection site, but none of these side effects were deemed sufficient to raise concern at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID — Dr. Fauci’s outfit), which led the clinical trial.
Thus, the Phase 3 trial is still expected to get underway on July 27, with as many as 30,000 participants taking the vaccine. (The Phase 2 trial, incidentally, is already underway and fully enrolled). Moderna says it has already produced sufficient doses of the vaccine to treat all 30,000 participants in the Phase 3 trial — and if all goes well, to then ramp up and produce anywhere from 500 million to 1 billion doses per year.
Responding to this report, analyst Cory Kasimov at JPMorgan was quick to double down and re-endorse Moderna stock for investment at an “overweight” level. (To watch Kasimov’s track record, click here)
“We are encouraged by the much anticipated detailed results from the Phase 1 study,” said Kasimov, noting that mRNA-1273’s “ability to demonstrate neutralizing antibodies in 100% of patients across dose levels adds to the probability of ultimate success.”
Kasimov does caution that some questions still remain to be answered, in particular how well the production of antibodies translates into clinical benefits for patients.
And a perhaps more important concern for investors is this: Despite retaining his overweight rating on Moderna, Kasimov still has only a $60 price target on the stock, which now worth cost more than $80 a share.
Turning now to the rest of the Street, MRNA has received a total of 14 Buy recommendations and 2 Holds, making the consensus rating a Strong Buy. The $92.54 average price target brings the upside potential to 12%. (See MRNA stock analysis on TipRanks)