Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Potential Taking Shape

COVID-19 has put the world in a chokehold, but one biotech name appears to be well on its way to delivering a match-winning knockout.

On Tuesday, Moderna (MRNA) hosted a virtual vaccines day in which management as well as infectious disease (ID) key opinion leaders (KOLs) highlighted scientific, regulatory and commercial considerations related to Moderna’s vaccine programs, including its experimental vaccine against COVID-19, mRNA-1273. With respect to this candidate, Moderna expects to have initial Phase 1 immunogenicity data in the summer, and then to progress quickly into Phase 2. After a dose has been selected, Phase 2b/3 studies are slated to kick off in the fall.

Weighing in for Chardan Capital, analyst Geulah Livshits cites several takeaways from the discussion that played into her bullish thesis. There are advantages to using an mRNA approach including ease of design, natural antigen expression, triggering of both B and T cell responses, activity at lower doses (vs. DNA vaccines) and cell-free standardized manufacturing. In addition, Moderna is ramping up its manufacturing might.

It should be noted that the KOLs pointed out there’s a high level of uncertainty when it comes to SARS-CoV-2 immunity.

“If…immunity is durable or recovered patients only experience mild disease upon re-infection, the long-term need for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could be limited, and the majority of commercial potential (if any) could come from stockpiling in 2021-22. We believe Moderna is relatively well-positioned in either scenario (if mRNA-1273 shows efficacy) given the company’s accelerated clinical timeline,” Livshits explained.

As a result, the analyst kept a Buy rating and $40 price target on the stock. (To watch Livshits’ track record, click here)

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer’s Hartaj Singh believes its mRNA-1647 candidate in cytomegalovirus (CMV) represents a major point of strength for the company.

“While mRNA-1273’s nearer-term impact to the investment thesis is significant, we remain bullish on substantial opportunity from mRNA-1647 in CMV and the remainder of the core prophylactic vaccine portfolio. The complexity of CMV and its devastating morbidity/mortality to sub-populations are features of the unmet need that could uniquely be served by mRNA-1647’s approach,” the analyst stated.

If that wasn’t enough, interim Phase 1b data for its experimental Zika vaccine, mRNA-1893, demonstrated positive results.

Based on everything that MRNA has going for it, Singh not only reiterated an Outperform call, but also bumped up the price target from $31 to $43. This new target implies shares could surge 15% in the next year. (To watch Singh’s track record, click here)

Looking at the consensus breakdown, 8 Buys and 1 Hold issued in the last three months add up to a Strong Buy analyst consensus. (See Moderna stock analysis on TipRanks)

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