Pfizer and BioNTech Pull Ahead in COVID-19 Vaccine Race

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The race for a COVID-19 vaccine speeds on. And a few frontrunners are emerging.

Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, conceded that we would probably not see a coronavirus vaccine this year. But he remains hopeful that a clear candidate could arise by early 2021.

For now, Moderna, the Massachusetts-based biotech firm, is leading the pack with a possible mRNA vaccine. But it has some new competition. Pfizer, the New York-based pharma giant, just announced positive results from its own vaccine collaboration with BioNTech. Early-stage clinical trial results have brought new hope for a vaccine, sooner rather than later. It has also caused some movement in the stock market.

Pfizer’s Early Trial

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, known as “Candidate BNT162b1,” just completed an early clinical trial. The study followed 45 randomly assigned patients to get either a placebo dose or one of three other variations. Patients received two doses, 21 days apart. The three variations were 10 micrograms, 30 micrograms, and 100 micrograms. 

Overall findings were positive. However, the high dose of 100 micrograms caused fevers in half of the patients, so the second dose for that group was significantly lower. 75% of those in the 30-microgram group and 8.3% of those in the 10-microgram group also developed fevers.

Over half of all participants experienced some side effects—either fever or sleep disturbances. Still, none of the side effects were deemed to be serious. (In the context of clinical trials, “serious” means the side effect would have caused either hospitalization, permanent impairment, or death).

Other than that issue, the results inspired hope. The vaccine caused an immune response in patients at levels higher than if someone had actually recovered from COVID-19.

Pfizer has published its findings on medRXiv, which is a reputable source backed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Yale University. The trial results have yet to undergo peer review.

Looking Forward

Philip Dormitzer, Chief Scientific Officer of Pfizer’s viral vaccine department said:

“We still have a ways to go and we’re testing other candidates as well…However, what we can say at this point is there is a viable candidate based on immunogenicity and early tolerability safety data.”

From here, Pfizer will need to prove that a high antibody level indeed equates to immunity. This will require a much larger study, which must prove that those who receive the vaccine are 50% less likely to later catch the coronavirus. Pfizer and BioNTech say they’re slated to start that trial within a month or two.

Candidate BNT162b1 is just one of four vaccine prototypes that Pfizer is developing. Because of the cost, and for the sake of time, only one candidate will move onto this second stage. Right now it looks like they may have a winner.

Market Action

The news this week pushed Pfizer and BioNTech up in the markets. As of Monday night, Pfizer is up over 6% since the announcement. BioNTech is up 3.45% to $65.51. Moderna, which faced rumors of delays and has not yet published data, is up .99% to $50.15.

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