In January of last year, employees of Novavax Inc. met at a local Maryland bar to discuss how they might salvage their careers. For decades, the small biotech had tried to develop an approved vaccine, with no success. The company had enough cash to survive only another six months or so and its shares traded under $4, with a market value of $127 million.
Today, Novavax is advancing toward authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine. Scientists believe that, if cleared, it could be one of the more powerful weapons against the pandemic, offering key possible advantages over its competitors. Some early data suggest the Novavax shot may be one of the first shown to stem asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus and also potentially provide longer-lasting protection.
If the two-shot regimen is authorized, Novavax will still face the challenge of making and distributing it in large quantities. The firm sold some manufacturing assets in 2019 when it was desperate for cash.
Investors, who left the 33-year-old company for dead last year, are betting that regulators will authorize Novavax’s vaccine in the next couple of months. They have sent shares on Nasdaq up to $229, up 106% so far this year. Late last month, Novavax released preliminary data indicating its shot was effective at protecting against Covid-19, though less so against a new strain identified in South Africa that appears to be a challenge for other shots, too. Results of the vaccine’s late-stage U.S. trial could be released late next month.
Novavax now has a market value of $15.4 billion, greater than that of companies with billions of dollars of annual sales, including generic drug giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.