This week’s Alpha Trader podcast features hosts Aaron Task and Stephen Alpher talking COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations with Adam Feuerstein of Stat News.
Much of the treatment talk has been about Gilead’s (NASDAQ:GILD) remdesivir, and Feuerstein – who has been at the center of much of the reporting – takes us through those ups and downs. First, there was anecdotal evidence on April 16 out of Chicago which suggested the drug as being almost miraculously effective – the news set off a nice move higher in Gilead (more on that later), and a furious rally in the broader markets.
Next, there was a “leak” one week later out of the WHO that a trial of the drug in China was a flop – the news took the starch out of a sizable rally in stocks that day. Finally, one day after that, there was a report that results from U.S. government’s all-important trial of remdesivir were going to hit in mid-May, and chatter that those results might show the drug as being effective.
Feuerstein does find it somewhat curious that Gilead’s stock rises and falls with the news about remdesivir given that the company has more or less said it will give the drug away (after recouping costs). The halo effect? Possibly, but Gilead has added nearly $20B in market cap over the past three months.
In any case, Gilead reports Q1 earnings after the close on Thursday – it might make for a good time to report on remdesivir results from one of the company trials (not from the above-mentioned U.S. government trial).
Feuerstein reminds that remdesivir is only a treatment for COVID-19, and even in a best-case scenario will be effective in curing only certain patients. What the world ultimately needs is a vaccine, and there are currently five in clinical development, i.e. being tested on people. There are a number of others in pre-clinical development as well.
One of the more advanced at this time is Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA), and that stock has nearly tripled over the past couple of months. Major pharmaceutical players (and experienced vaccine hands) Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), and Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY) are also hard at work.
Vaccines, however, take time to develop. If all goes right, says Feuerstein, we’re looking at 12-18 months. Any stumbles, and it would take even longer.