It’s becoming apparent that coronavirus (2019-nCov) is not going to be a transient event. Governments and private organizations are working hard to curb the spread of the disease, but the infection rate and death toll appear likely to rise in the short term.
Markets are rattled. Major indices fell over 1.5% on Monday, the largest daily decline since October.
On Friday night Chinese researchers uploaded the DNA sequence of the virus to a public database, making it readily accessible to scientists across the globe. That data, which is critical for any vaccine development program, instigated a fury of research and clinical activity across the world. Not surprisingly, several American companies are in the mix.
Moderna, a vaccine-focused biotech company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts is one of the key players. Last week they received a grant from the non-profit “Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness” (thank you Bill Gates) to pursue a vaccine using their messenger RNA platform.
- According to Science Magazine, Moderna claims it could have enough of the vaccine produced in the next month to begin animal trials. Moderna is a public company, and shares were up 8% yesterday on news of the continued spread of the virus.
Johnson & Johnson is also pursuing a vaccine and the company’s chief scientific officer said he is “pretty confident” it will be available within a year.
The University of Queensland was also given a grant to pursue a vaccine using slightly older scientific technology. A member of the research team there reportedly said “Our team is working as hard and fast as we possibly can. It is reassuring to us that we are not the only team tasked with a response.” Not exactly confidence inspiring.
Two other smaller publicly traded companies, Inovio and Novavax, are also working on vaccines. Shares of Inovio and Novavax were up 25% and 9%, respectively, during yesterday’s trading session.
During the recent Zika and Ebola outbreaks, vaccines played a small role, if any, in controlling the spread of disease. The reality is vaccines take many months to develop and get through the requisite safety and efficacy trials. But that won’t stop people from trying.