Vaxxinity (VAXX) CEO Mei Mei Hu sees opportunity in low and middle income markets, underserved by the largest COVID-19 vaccine players to-date, for the pandemic and moving forward.
“COVID taught us to look at black swans as a macro event. I think everyone has to be open to LMICs … as there’s a market to still be had — and it’s large,” Hu told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.
The Dallas–based company (a merger of formerly COVAXX and United Neuroscience in 2021), went public amid a surge in biotech investment last year, but interest has since waned, leaving Vaxxinity in a period of stasis.
“The investor market, they are so fatigued with COVID. Everyone is fatigued. It’s tiring — you don’t want to invest in stuff you want to go away,” Hu said.
Still, Hu hasn’t given up on the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, which recently received an endorsement from the White House as a potential second generation vaccine — that is, a stronger candidate that serves a purpose beyond the emergency of the pandemic.
“If you’re realistic, [the virus] is not going away,” Hu said.
“The market isn’t going away and it’s going to be a massive commercial opportunity,” she added.
The two market frontrunners in the U.S., Pfizer/ BioNTech (PFE/BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA), have raked in billions of dollars in government money since late 2020 when the first doses were administered.
But experts say that there is always a new generation of vaccine that is likely to be a better product. In the case of Covid, a number of options, including nasal administration and targeting all coronaviruses, are on the table. That was the topic of discussion at a recent White House vaccine summit, which featured Vaxxinity.
Hu explained that the company’s vaccine is targeting more of the current coronavirus, which should translate to stronger protection.
In simple terms, think of the virus like a face, she explained.
It’s one thing to identify the virus by the nose, but once you capture more identifiers of the face, you can program the vaccine for the eyes, the ears, the mouth, Hu said.
“So if the nose evades you, you still have more to catch,” she said.
Vaccine makers are scrambling to meet a fall campaign booster deadline, set by the U.S. government, to roll out a newly formulated vaccine that will target the BA.5 variant — the latest to dominate in the U.S. which has shown some level of making current vaccines less effective against infection. But they remain effective against severe disease and illness.
And it is not just a need within the U.S. The global vaccination rate remains a concern — as new infections give rise to the likelihood of new, more troublesome variants.
“We are targeting the rest of the world. There’s still massive demand and a lot of times we don’t think about it because it doesn’t impact us,” Hu said.
But actually, the global population is multiples larger than the U.S. population. And if consortiums are purchasing the vaccines to distribute, as is the case with the COVAX program, price isn’t as big a barrier.
“LMICs, they’ve never been top of mind for most U.S. drug companies, but there’s a lot of market there,” Hu said.
While major vaccine makers have always captured some of the market, especially in the case of childhood vaccinations, the pandemic has opened the door for a broader adult vaccine market.
Especially in the $10-$20 per dose price point that has been the norm during the pandemic.
“Just look at the numbers,” Hu said. “When you get down to it, most of the world is an LMIC.”
Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem
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