Amid the rising scare induced by the Omicron variant, Moderna, Inc., (MRNA) revealed that it is working rapidly to test whether the currently authorized dosage level of its booster shot is sufficient to neutralize the variant.
The Omicron variant includes mutations seen in the Delta variant, which are likely to increase transmissibility, and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants, which promote immune escape.
Moderna’s CEO, Stephane Bancel, said, “From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves. The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.”
COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Candidates
Moderna has been testing three levels of response, in case the currently authorized 50 µg booster dose of mRNA-1273 proves inadequate to boost immunity against the Omicron variant.
Firstly, the company dosed 306 healthy adults with a 100 µg booster dose of mRNA-1273. Moderna is working to rapidly test sera from its high dose booster recipients to determine if the high dose provides superior neutralizing protection.
Furthermore, Moderna has been testing two multi-valent booster candidates. The first candidate (mRNA-1273.211) includes several mutations present in the Omicron variant that were also present in the Beta variant. About 300 participants were dosed at the 50 µg level, while 584 received the 100 µg dose level.
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The second multi-valent candidate (mRNA-1273.213) includes many of the mutations present in the Omicron variant that were also present in the Beta and Delta variants. Moderna has currently completed dosing 584 adults with the 100 µg dose level and seeks to explore the 50 µg dose level in the same number of adults.
Moderna is also working actively on Omicron-specific booster candidate (mRNA-1273.529). The company is expected to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60-90 days.
Wall Street’s Take
Following the news, Piper Sandler analyst Edward Tenthoff reiterated a Buy rating and a price target of $348 (4.2% upside potential) on the stock.
According to Tenthoff, Moderna’s technology can rapidly adapt to new versions of the Spike antigen in order to make new COVID-19 vaccines. The analyst also said that the company has the capacity to manufacture several hundred million vaccine doses every month.
Overall, the stock has a Hold consensus rating based on 6 Buys, 4 Holds and 3 Sells. The average Moderna price target of $298.17 implies 10.7% downside potential from current levels.
Investors should always be aware of the risks involved in any stock. According to the TipRanks’ Risk Factors tool, MRNA is at risk mainly from two factors: Tech and Innovation, and Finance and Corporate, which contribute 29% and 22% to the total 98 risks identified for the stock, respectively.
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