Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic, meaning the disease is no longer an epidemic as it's spreading across the world with an escalating number of cases. There are 35 vaccine candidates against COVID-19 currently, many of which were developed by small biotech companies. All candidates are in preclinical stages except for the first clinical trials which began March 16.
Moderna (MNRA ), at 830 employees, was the first to develop a potential vaccine against COVID-19 and began clinical trials, or phase 1 studies, on March 16. Clinical trials are taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) and are run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The startup biotech company developed and shipped the vaccine to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a center within the NIH, in a matter of 42 days. Technically, the vaccine was ready after just 25 days, but necessary testing before shipment took a couple weeks. Trials of Moderna's vaccine initially weren't expected to begin until April. Their overall timeline is impressively rapid, considering that it took almost two years before a vaccine candidate was ready to be tested for the SARS outbreak. Moderna shares rose nearly 28% in one day, rising 97% over the week following their initial announcement, though the stock has also dropped and experienced volatility lately as seen in the overall market. Moderna was founded in 2010 by Flagship Pioneering, a biotech venture capital group, and is led by Stephane Bancel.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO ) shares rallied 37% after news that the company had a potential vaccine with an accelerated timeline for clinical trials. After backlash and criticism from Citron Research following a statement that Inovio developed the potential vaccine in just a few hours, however, shares dropped rather rapidly. That said, the speed of development may not necessarily be a bad thing, according to Jason McCarthy, Ph.D., Maxim analyst. McCarthy said it's actually a "demonstration of the versatility and speed with which Inovio can respond to an 'emergency' situation."Despite the recent volatility, Inovio still remains a leader in coronavirus vaccine development, with current expectations in place to start clinical trials in April. "We plan to begin human clinical trials in the U.S. in April and soon thereafter in China and South Korea, where the outbreak is impacting the most people," said Inovio CEO Dr. J. Joseph Kim in a statement. Inovio was founded in 1983 and has 281 employees.
Among other companies responsible for the 35 vaccine candidates, examples of additional small biotech names include AIM ImmunoTech (AIM ), Vaxart (VXRT ), and Novavax (NVAX ).