Newsletters have taken to hiring spokespeople for their promo videos, trying to give them that extra flash of veritas and professionalism and a nice “anchor voice”, and this time it’s actress and former journalist Suzanne Sena that Money Morning brings in to pitch their “super vaccine” idea… which doesn’t mean anything about the stock, of course, but she does have the anchor mannerisms down… and she’s a fun answer to trivia questions (who has worked as an anchor for both Fox News and The Onion?)
This is the basic spiel from the top of the ad:
“What we call a new ‘Super Vaccine’ is pushing to begin production of up to one billion doses.
“In fact, this Super Vaccine has already generated an immune response in humans.
“The FDA has granted Phase I approval in record time, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Now, the company behind the Super Vaccine is tiny, with a mere $60 million a year in sales.
“And yet they are so confident in the Super Vaccine they’ve signed a contract to produce one billion doses in the coming 12 months alone.
“Production is expected to begin imminently in the coming days…
“And could ignite a staggering 58,300% revenue surge for this tiny company by year’s end.”
And after that she brings in the actual newsletter guy, Michael Robinson, whose work we’ve seen heavily and hype-tastically teased many times over the years, and he, of course, ramps it up even further when talking about how this could be the “biggest game-changer in the history of medicine” … the ad is actually for a new product he’s launching, called Bio-Technology Profit Alliance — and, as befits a heavy marketing job, it’s a pricey commitment ($1,950/year, there’s technically a refund policy if you try the program for a year and don’t get 50 winning recommendations, but it’s got enough hoops to jump through that you probably should consider it nonrefundable).
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And this is how he describes the scope of the opportunity, as they try to entice you to pull out your credit card…
“Not just in the history of medicine but in the history of mankind.
“Go ahead and take the biggest breakthroughs you can imagine.
“Antibiotics. Penicillin. Insulin. The polio vaccine.
“Put them all together and multiply by 10. That’s how revolutionary the capabilities could be for this Super Vaccine’s platform.”
This push won’t surprise any Gumshoe readers, of course — anyone who has been watching the stock market this year knows that shifting sentiment about a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19 is enough to drive the entire market higher on “this might actually be over soon” sentiment, and there have been dozens of individual stocks that have hit the spotlight this year on the back of vaccine or drug development news. Almost every company who might feasibly be able to help is trying to develop a vaccine, and at last count (from the Milken Institute, at least) there are more than 200 vaccines (and 300+ treatments) in development, so hope springs eternal… but which one is being touted by Michael Robinson today?
No, it’s not Novavax (NVAX) — though that would be convenient, since their well-received early stage results for their COVID vaccine sent the stock up 15% or so this morning. What clues do we get about the specific one?
We’re told that they have signed a contract to produce a billion doses in the next year, and 10 billion in total over the next decade (if not for COVID, then for other stuff), and that the vaccine is universal… here’s more from Robinson:
“The Super Vaccine’s platform is UNIVERSAL in nature.
“In other words, not only does its patented technology have the potential to end the COVID-19 crisis, but it could also stop future pandemics BEFORE they even start.
“At the same time, it could be used to fight cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and maybe more.
“The last time we saw anything that could be this revolutionary was 100 years ago when antibiotics and penicillin first came on the scene.”
Other clues? They have a connection to the “vaccine czar,” Dr. Moncef Slaui…
“Until he was appointed vaccine czar, Dr. Slaoui sat on the board of directors for the company behind the Super Vaccine.”
And they’ve been one of the many beneficiaries of the government throwing money at possible vaccine programs…
“In April, the administration handed this tiny company $483 million to help push the Super Vaccine through the FDA approval process.”
And they got into Phase 1 trials in record time, 43 days.
The big-number revenue growth forecast doesn’t really mean anything, of course, since this would be a biotech company that’s essentially going from no revenue, but it still sounds impressive — they base this on selling a billion doses at $35 per dose, bringing in $35 billion and therefore growing revenues 58,300% over the current $60 million annual sales.
There are, of course, real stories of biotech products turning into company-making blockbusters — it hasn’t happened with vaccines in a long time, but the examples he trots out of some huge winners in past decades are real companies, like Biogen (BIIB), Genentech (now part of Roche), Amgen (AMGN) and Gilead (GILD), that provided returns of better than 100,000% for early investors… though we should note, of course, that in most cases those were 20-30 year gains, with also quite a few huge drawdowns along the way that would have scared off a lot of investors, and those are the rare examples of biotech companies that happened to start out very small and became large and profitable multi-product biotechs. That happens, and it’s the dream of every long-term biotech investor but it doesn’t happen very often.
To be fair, Robinson essentially says as much — he uses the flashy charts to make you drool, but does provide the important disclaimers…
“I don’t want readers to expect the Super Vaccine company to deliver 850,000% like Genentech, or 241,000% like Amgen, or even 42,000% like Gilead. Just because it happened before doesn’t mean it will happen again. Those companies were the best of the best, and the gains took decades to achieve. So I really want people to be realistic.”
And this company has apparently been around for a while, here’s another clue:
“And by the way, this isn’t the first time this company has been selected by the U.S. government. The U.S. Department of Defense gave this company $25 million to develop drugs to protect Americans against engineered biological attacks.”
Apparently this vaccine is not traditionally developed, growing live viruses in chicken eggs, but is one of the many “next generation vaccine” platforms that are being promoted right now (and have been promoted many times over the past decade) as a new and faster way to develop vaccines. Here’s a bit more from the ad:
“Instead of injecting your body with a virus, the Super Vaccine injects your body with precoded messenger RNA.
“And this messenger RNA has been precoded to tell your body to stop COVID-19 in its tracks….
“It’s designed to be quick, cheap, powerful, and safe.
“And the human trials were a huge success. In fact, the Super Vaccine produced an immune response in every single patient.”
OK, so that “DNA vaccines” notion narrows it down to a few of the biotechs trying to develop COVID vaccines… which one is this?
Thinkolator sez this is yet another pitch for Moderna (MRNA), which you have almost certainly heard touted before. Moderna did indeed have $60 million in revenue in 2019 (all from research projects, I assume), and they did get a DARPA grant for $25 million way back in 2013 during their earlier R&D efforts… and, as the ad says, they did get $483 million in federal funding in April that was designed to accelerate their development of their COVID vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273… then another $483 billion to complete the funding they need for the Phase 3 clinical trial that they are starting right now (enrollment expected to be complete by next month, though there haven’t really been any results released from Phase 2 yet).
Moderna has been around for a while, developing new messenger RNA vaccine candidates for various diseases, but they certainly know that COVID-19 is the only story anyone cares about this year — they have a summary page up on their website about it here if you’re curious, and it has certainly been a fast-moving story. The “billion doses” story is a more ambitious interpretation than the company focuses on, but with their partnership with Lonza for contract manufacturing does leave the possibility that they’ll get to that level… and they’ve separately said they do think they can at least get to 500 million in the next year… and pharmaceutical pricing is never transparent, with the likelihood that prices will be far lower for high-volume customers (like big governments), but the $35 number is at least in line with the $32-37 pricing range they set for smaller deals this week.
Robinson is a tech and biotech guy, so he has certainly been talking up and recommending various COVID plays all year, but, interestingly enough, Moderna was not the focus of his original teaser pitch about vaccines that I covered in May (at the time, the Thinkolator found he was pitching Inovio (INO), Novavax (NVAX) and Vaxart (VXRT)).
And with that, I’ll leave it to you — I do get the sense that we’re likely to have a lot of promising late-stage vaccine candidates by the end of this year, with maybe even some rushed through to early approval for at least some patient groups before 2021 (like healthcare workers), though it seems likely to me that safety testing to enable billions of doses to be responsibly distributed will probably be longer in coming. Whether it’s Moderna that ends up leading the pack, or one of the smaller players like Inovio or Novavax or one of the many big pharma companies, I don’t know… and I’m not at all expert in biotech, so I tend to avoid making meaningful single-company bets in that area. Moderna is the best capitalized for rapid rollout among the “startup” companies at the moment, I guess, but it’s also valued at almost $30 billion so there’s a lot of optimism baked in — particularly since other huge projects from vastly larger companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Merck are in many cases not far behind those more nimble little fellas.
So I’ll continue to hope that safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are available as soon as possible, and that effective treatments for those already suffering end up being well-distributed even before that. I found Doc Gumshoe’s piece about treatment and vaccine projects earlier this week pretty encouraging, but I won’t be betting on the horse race. I know many of you are following these kinds of stocks closely and investing in many of them, sometimes with extraordinary short-term returns as the excitement over vaccines has bubbled over, so do feel free to jump in and make your argument for one of the many candidates — prefer Moderna, or do you like more of what you see from BioNTech and Novavax and Inovio? Sticking with titans like Sanofi and Pfizer? Let us know with a comment below.
P.S. When it comes to the order form for this service, Robinson also adds in some other teases… one of those touts the “vaccine manufacturer,” which seems to be a pitch for global contract manufacturer Lonza, Moderna’s manufacturing partner (trades at LONN in Switzerland, LZAGF or LZAGY OTC in the US). that’s a much larger and steadier business, and is profitable and less dependent on a single successful product since they have deals with many drug and vaccine developers, though it has also nearly doubled with the COVID response and trades at more than 50X earnings.