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The Race to Develop a Vaccine: Who Stands to Benefit from Coronavirus? | WELL

The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates Covid-19’s fatality rate to be 3.4% globally, far lower than other recent outbreaks, including SARS and MERS. However, the Coronavirus appears to be more fatal than flu, which has a fatality rate of around 0.1 percent [1]. Despite being very contagious, most people who get Covid-19 will recover within 1-2 weeks and without the need for hospitalization [2].

Given the risk of infection is low, our view is the panic-stricken global markets are now assuming the worst possible fallout of a global recession. With recent US jobs data showing almost 275,000 new jobs created in February and a record low 3.5% unemployment rate [3], we believe the US economy could bounce back quickly. The likely deciding factor to calm markets is, in our opinion a reduction in the speed of new cases being announced. While the total number of cases may still grow, any leveling off in our view will help calm markets – providing a possible turning point and reduction in the epidemic spreading further.

Currently, at least 30 companies and academic institutions, biotech startups and big pharma giants including Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are working on vaccines [4]. Scientists have already studied the full genome of the virus and found the proteins that cause the infection.

We believe that a number of Biotech companies including Gilead Sciences and Moderna are advanced in developing potential vaccines. Other biotech players who use AI diagnostics are well positioned in our view to benefit from the COVID-19 virus. These companies include Insilico Medicine Inc., Vir Biotechnology Inc. and Atomwise Inc.

While these stocks may rally further, other healthcare innovators including telemedicine companies such as CareClix and Babylon Health, which works with UK’s NHS already, plus remote conferencing companies such as ZOOM are all set to benefit in our view.

US biotech firm, Moderna, shipped the first batch of a vaccine to be used in human testing last week. This is a rapid turnaround time after researchers learned the virus’s genetic sequence in January. Moderna’s shots are to undergo a faster-than-expected study on Seattle-area volunteers who are being recruited. The vaccine study is sponsored by the US government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The vaccine contains the genetic material RNA, which instructs the body’s cells to make a protein from the coronavirus. This protein doesn’t cause infection but is designed to trigger an immune response to the virus. The vaccine isn’t made from the actual virus. Such innovative medical innovations, including ‘rapid response platforms’ are amongst the best bet to develop a vaccine.

The speed at which this experimental vaccine was developed by Moderna represents a breakthrough. Their vaccine was developed in 42 days of the company obtaining genetic information on the coronavirus. Moderna shipped their vaccine to US government scientists immediately. The possibility exists to develop a vaccine before Christmas, but mass producing such will likely take another 4-6 months [5]. 

An antiviral medication called “Remdesivir” from Gilead Sciences, already seems effective in animals [6]. It was used to treat the first American patient in Washington State. Researchers are now testing the drug in clinical trials in the United States, China and other countries [7].

The speed and response is happening on an unprecedented timescale. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, it took researchers almost 20 months to get a vaccine ready for human trials. By the time of the Zika outbreak in 2015, researchers had ensured the timeline was just six months. Initial trials of the potential vaccine could begin in April, but the process of testing and approvals would last at least a year. The first Covid-19 vaccine in China is expected to be ready for clinical trials by the end of April [8].

In China, the National Medical Products Administration has approved the use of Favilavir, an anti-viral drug for treating the virus. The drug has been effective treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial of 70 patients. The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen city [9]. 

Work on vaccines is using newer, and less tested, approaches known as "plug and play" vaccines. As we know the genetic code of the new coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2, we now have the complete blueprint for building that virus. Scientists are lifting small sections of the coronavirus's genetic code and putting it into other, completely harmless, viruses. Other groups are using pieces of raw genetic code (either DNA or RNA) which, once injected into the body, should begin producing proteins which the immune system again can learn to fight.

Investing in innovative healthcare

The HAN-GINS Healthcare Innovation ETF (WELL) provide investors with access to a basket of over 100 companies at from exciting areas of innovative healthcare that include medical devices, robotics, genome sequencing as well as healthcare trackers/wearables and neuroscience.

WELL tracks the Indxx Advanced Life Science and Smart Healthcare Thematic Index, an index designed to measure the performance of large, mid and small market capitalization companies primarily listed on an exchange in developed and emerging markets that are involved in the advanced life sciences and smart healthcare sector.

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