Biotech Which

Which Biotech Company Has the Most Promising Coronavirus Vaccine? – Motley Fool

A coronavirus vaccine has the potential to not only save countless lives, but also to mitigate trillions in economic damage.

Zhiyuan Sun

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office projects that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause more than $16 trillion worth of damage to the U.S. economy over the next decade. More than 140,000 Americans have already died from the coronavirus, meaning that in the span of six and a half months, SARS-CoV-2 has killed more people than the number of Americans who die each year from opioid overdose (46,000), traffic accidents (36,500), and gun violence (40,000) combined.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t subsiding in the U.S., with more than 70,000 new cases per day as of July 15. Nearly 25 states have now rolled back their reopening plans as the nation struggles to contain the deadly virus.

Fortunately, there are over 140 coronavirus vaccines in development. Out of this group, four vaccines are currently frontrunners. Let’s look at which vaccine company is the best buy for investors. 

Doctor in personal protective equipment giving the thumbs up sign and holding a sample bottle labeled COVID-19 vaccine.

Image source: Getty Images.

Four rising stars in the search for a cure

First up is Moderna‘s (NASDAQ:MRNA) mRNA-1273, a vaccine containing messenger ribonucleic acid strands that code for the SARS-CoV-2’s spike (S) protein, which is responsible for facilitating the virus’s entry into host cells. It’s theorized that the vaccine functions by prompting the body’s immune system to recognize S-proteins from its vaccine to defend itself, so it’s ready in the event the actual SARS-CoV-2 enters the body. In phase 1 clinical trials, all 45 healthy volunteers who received mRNA-1273 developed neutralizing antibodies (antibodies that can combat SARS-CoV-2). The vaccine will enter phase 3 on July 27.

Second up is Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech‘s (NASDAQ:BNTX) BNT162b1. Like mRNA-1273, BNT162b1 is also a messenger RNA vaccine, except it encodes a specific receptor-binding domain of SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine also has a similar mechanism of action as mRNA-1273. Additionally, all 45 healthy subjects who received Pfizer and BioNtech’s vaccine in phase 1/2 trials developed neutralizing antibodies. BNT162b1’s phase 3 clinical trial is scheduled to commence shortly.

The third candidate at play is Inovio Pharmaceuticals(NASDAQ:INO) INO-4800. INO-4800 is one stem upstream from the two mRNA vaccines discussed previously, as it features DNA that encodes for messenger RNA that encodes the SARS-CoV-2’s S-protein.

In phase 1 trials, 34 out of 36 participants who received INO-4800 developed an immune response. However, it is not known what percentage of patients developed neutralizing antibodies. Without this metric, no definitive efficacy claims can be drawn.

Lastly, AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) and Oxford University are developing their own version of a vaccine that encodes SARS-CoV-2’s S-protein. The vaccine is labeled AZD1222 and is made from a weakened version of the common cold virus. Phase 1 results are set to be released July 20. The company has already announced that not only did AZD1222 produce antibodies when given to trial participants, but it also led to the development of killer T-cells against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine is currently in phase 3. 

So which company is the best buy? 

While all of the companies above are making significant progress in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, AstraZeneca’s AD1222 is currently the most promising candidate due to its ability to produce both antibodies and killer T-cell response. There is growing evidence that a T-cell response is as important as neutralizing antibodies in fighting SARS-CoV-2. 

A recent study showed that coronavirus antibodies start to fade within three weeks and disappear entirely by three months. Killer T-cells, however, can circulate within the body for years after injection. Hence, AstraZeneca’s vaccine has the potential to become a double defense against the SARS-CoV-2. 

The company launched a phase 3 clinical trial evaluating AZD1222 on July 4, and has the manufacturing capacity to produce 2 billion doses if approved. Since the vaccine offers the potential to save countless lives and alleviate economic impact, I recommend investors add AstraZeneca to their portfolios

Zhiyuan Sun has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Boring Which

The Sun Is a Bit Boring, Which May Make It Special – The New York Times

The sun seems a little less active than hundreds of similar stars in our galaxy, which could play a role in why life exists in our solar system.


The sun, like all stars, is a blazing ball of fusion-powered plasma. From its surface emerge magnetic field lines that can cause dark patches known as sunspots. Turn up the activity of these magnetic whorls, and you get more solar storms flinging deadly charged particles and radiation throughout our solar system. If enough of these punishing waves hit a rocky planet, that planet might end up microwaved into a dreary condition where nothing could live.

So how is it that we’re alive? A study released Thursday in the journal Science suggests that our sun is rather tame compared with its stellar siblings, and that hundreds of other sun-like stars in our galaxy have on average five times more magnetic activity than our parent star. In other words, the sun is a bit humdrum, which might be good for life here on Earth.

Astronomers have been tracking the appearance of sunspots since the time of Galileo, providing a proxy for solar activity stretching back four centuries. Some previous studies also implied that the sun was quieter than other similar stars. But competing evidence has also found the sun’s activity level is normal for stars of its size.

“This triggered the question: ‘Is the sun a real sun-like star?’” said Timo Reinhold, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, and co-author of the paper.

Dr. Reinhold and colleagues looked at data collected by NASA’s retired Kepler space telescope, which continuously monitored approximately 150,000 stars in the Milky Way for four years to find exoplanets, and was capable of observing brightness variations from activity such as the appearance and disappearance of starspots.

The researchers selected stars with masses, temperatures, ages, chemical compositions and rotation periods comparable to our sun’s. They eventually found 369 stars for comparison, the largest such sample to date.

Stars like the sun go through regular cycles during which spots cross their surfaces with greater or less frequency. During times of peak magnetic activity, when spots pop out all over the surface, a star will dim. Our sun’s cycle lasts about 11 Earth years.

For the sun, this dimming is negligible. Data from the past 140 years indicates that its brightness changes by less than a tenth of a percent over the course of its cycle. But for the stars studied by Kepler, the variability could be up to 12 times that amount.

The team has come up with two rather different potential explanations for what this means.

The first is that the sun is in a period of unusual torpor, and will one day wake up and become more like its kin. Evidence for this idea comes from significant swings in the sun’s activity levels during recorded history. Between 1645 and 1715, an era known as the Maunder Minimum, astronomers observed few to no sunspots. More than a century later, in 1859, the sun released one of the largest electromagnetic storms ever recorded, the Carrington Event, which knocked out telegraph lines and generated auroras as far south as the Caribbean.

But Natalie Krivova, a co-author and also an astrophysicist at Max Planck said that data from ice cores, which contain chemical indicators of solar activity stretching back 9,000 years, don’t suggest that the sun was any more raucous in the geologically recent past. Then again, nine millenniums is a blip compared to the sun’s 4-billion-year life span.

The second idea, Dr. Krivova said, is that the magnetic dynamo inside the sun, which power’s its colossal magnetic field, is reaching the end of its high-powered stage, and is currently transitioning into a period of reduced activity. Stars older than the sun show marked decreases in magnetic activity, and the sun is just about getting to the age when this shift should occur.

Some stellar scientists believe that the sun’s magnetic dynamo might be “reaching its end state, or almost its death,” said Ricky Egeland, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

The 369 sun-like stars observed by Kepler might simply be in an earlier stage of evolution than the sun, these scientists say. Or perhaps something particular about the sun is causing an early transition. Dr. Reinhold’s team doesn’t favor one explanation over the other.

In either case, a quiet sun has benefited our species. When the sun flares up, its energetic emissions do harm to astronauts and satellites in orbit, and especially powerful outbursts can affect power grids down on the ground. Radiation from such events is not particularly conducive to the existence of living organisms.

Models indicate that when the sun was younger, perhaps half a billion or a billion years old, it had greater magnetic activity than today, Dr. Egeland said.

“I always wonder what effect this variability had on the development of life,” he said. “It may be no coincidence that we live around a very inactive star.”

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