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Top COVID-19 Vaccine Stories of March Put Biotech ETFs in Focus

Wall Street delivered a satisfactory performance in March. Accelerated coronavirus vaccine rollout, unprecedented fiscal stimulus support along with the Fed’s decision to keep rates near zero until 2023 at least, kept investors optimistic.

Going on, President Joe Biden is now aiming at distributing 200 million coronavirus vaccines within his first 100 days since joining office, per a CNBC article. As the vaccination drive is on, developers are keeping the market rolling with new updates regarding further progress in their advanced research on the coronavirus vaccine. In such a scenario, let’s take a look at some top coronavirus vaccine stories of March.

Moderna’s Encouraging Progress

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed that the coronavirus vaccines developed by Moderna MRNA and Pfizer PFE/BioNTech SE BNTX decrease infections by 90% in people who have been administered with both the vaccine shots. Going on, the study highlighted that the vaccine also reduced risk of coronavirus infection by 80% two weeks or more after being administered the first of the two vaccine shots. It also has been found to prevent asymptomatic infections.

In the most recent announcement, Moderna has informed about dosing the first participants in the Phase 2/3 of the KidCOVE study of the mRNA-1273 in children aged six months to below 12 years in the United States and Canada. The study is being conducted to study the safety, tolerability, reactogenicity and efficacy of two doses of mRNA-1273 administered 28 days apart. The company aims to enroll roughly 6,750 pediatric participants.

Moderna is also studying its COVID-19 vaccine in another phase II/III study — TeenCOVE — in adolescents aged 12-17 years.

Going on, the company is manufacturing booster vaccine candidates targeting different variants of coronavirus. In this regard, the company has started dosing patients with its modified COVID-19 vaccines in an ongoing phase II study.

Pfizer and BioNTech SE Provide Positive Updates

Pfizer and BioNTech SE posted encouraging updates related to their coronavirus vaccine candidate, BNT162b2. The duo’s two-shot vaccine has been observed to deliver 100% efficiency and robust antibody responses in participants aged 12-15 years with or without prior evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Moreover, the results surpassed the previously-recorded ones in vaccinated participants aged 16-25 years and were well tolerated, per the company’s press release.

Meanwhile, the companies are also conducting a trial to study the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on a two-dose schedule (approximately 21 days apart) in three age groups, children aged 5 to 11 years, 2 to 5 years, and 6 months to 2 years. It has started dosing the 5 to 11 year-old cohort last week and aims to begin dosing the 2 to 5 year-old cohort next week.

AstraZeneca Data Controversy

AstraZeneca AZN provided new updates on its coronavirus vaccine candidate, AZD1222, which it co-developed with University of Oxford and its spin-out company, Vaccitech. Notably, the company has reported a vaccine efficacy of 76% in a phase III trial of AZD1222 in the United States. The data also reflected 100% efficacy against severe or critical disease and hospitalization and 85% efficacy in symptomatic COVID-19 in participants aged 65 years and above.

According to the company, the vaccine was well tolerated and no safety-related issues were identified.  AstraZeneca aims to file for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the vaccine in the United States. AZD1222 has been granted a conditional marketing authorization or emergency use in more than 70 countries.

However, AstraZeneca was caught up in a little controversy with regard to its Mar 22 data release. The data reflected that the company had reported an efficacy of 79% at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% efficacy at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. However, National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) doubted that the late-stage data released by AstraZeneca from a large-scale U.S. study on its COVID-19 vaccine may have included “outdated” information. Later on, AstraZeneca reported that the efficacy of 79% was based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a data cut-off of Feb 17, per the company’s official press release.

Novavax Vaccine Showed Impressive Efficiency

Novavax NVAX announced very impressive updates on its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373. The company’s vaccine candidate has delivered final efficacy of 96.4% against mild, moderate and severe diseases caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a pivotal Phase 3 trial in the U.K.

Going on, Novavax has informed investors about the complete analysis of its Phase 2b trial being carried out in South Africa. In the region, marked by vast majority of strains that are B1.351 escape variants, the company’s coronavirus vaccine candidate delivered 55.4% efficiency among the HIV- negative trial participants. Encouragingly, both the studies conducted by the company have met statistical success parameters. Novavax is planning to submit the data for authorization to several regulatory agencies globally. Notably, the company is projecting to receive data from a 30,000-people trial in the United States and Mexico by early-April.

Biotech ETFs in Focus

The worsening coronavirus crisis has increased desperation among investors over the accelerated distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to develop herd immunity. In such a scenario, any progress in coronavirus vaccine is going to raise investors’ optimism. Thus, let’s take a look at ETFs that can gain from the recent development:

VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF BBH

The underlying MVIS US Listed Biotech 25 Index tracks the overall performance of companies involved in the development and production, marketing and sales of drugs based on genetic analysis and diagnostic equipment. Its AUM is $505 million and it has an expense ratio of 0.35% (read: Moderna ETFs to Gain on Positive 'Real-World' Study Data).

iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF IBB

This fund seeks to provide exposure to U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical stocks and tracks the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index. IBB has an AUM of $9.87 billion with an expense ratio of 0.46% (read: Will ETFs Gain on AstraZeneca's Latest Covid-19 Vaccine Update?).


The fund seeks daily investment results, before fees and expenses, which match the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry Index. Its AUM is $6.97 billion and expense ratio, 0.35% (read: Novavax ETFs to Shine Bright on Positive Vaccine Update).

First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index Fund FBT

The fund replicates as closely as possible, before fees and expenses, the price and yield of the NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index. Its AUM is $1.91 billion and has an expense ratio of 0.55% (read: A Guide to Biotech ETF Investing Amid the Coronavirus Crisis).

Principal Healthcare Innovators Index ETF BTEC

This fund invests in companies that are leading the charge toward innovative solutions rather than spending money on marketing and distribution by tracking the Nasdaq Healthcare Innovators Index. BTEC charges 42 bps in annual fees and has AUM of $165.7 million.

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