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Moderna Shares Gain On Bets That Its Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Matches Pfizer Efficacy

Moderna said the recent spike in U.S. COVID infections means its late-stage vaccine trial will have 'substantially' more than 53 positive cases to examine as it hands over data for independent analysis.

Moderna Inc.  (MRNA) - Get Moderna, Inc. Report shares jumped higher Thursday after the drugmaker said it has enough data from its late-stage vaccine trial to submit to independent analysts, while the nation's top infectious diseases expert hinted it could be as effective as Pfizer Inc.'s  (PFE) - Get Pfizer Inc. Report.

Moderna said the recent surge in U.S. coronavirus infection rates, which rose at a record pace of 140,000 on Wednesday, has meant that the study will include 'substantially more than 53" positive cases, a figure that was targeted as the trigger point for analysis of the late-stage data. Moderna is using so-called 'messenger RNA' techniques for its vaccine candidate, and told investors in September that it had amassed more than 25,000 participants for its clinical stage trial.

"The data on these cases is being prepared for submission to the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for analysis and recommendation," the company said in a statement late Wednesday. "Moderna remains blinded to whether these participants received vaccine or placebo."

Moderna shares were marked 4.1% higher in early trading Thursday to change hands at $86.29 each, a move that extends the stock's six-month gain to around 12.2%.

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Earlier Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told a Financial Times healthcare conference that data from the Moderna trial could be ready in less than a week, adding that its efficacy rate could be close to that observed by Pfizer in the breakthrough study reported earlier this week.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech BNTX, said Monday that their study had dosed half of their 43,538 trial participants with a placebo, and the other half with their vaccine candidate, on two separate occasions. Of the 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 that resulted from the blinded trial, the pair said, more than 90% came from the placebo group.

Pfizer said it saw no serious safety concerns from its ongoing trial, the only major study not linked to the U.S. government's 'Operation Warp Speed' program, and expects to have as many as 1.3 billion doses produced next year if and when the drug is ultimately approved by regulators.

"Whether (Moderna's vaccine) is as effective as (Pfizer's) remains to be seen and will be difficult to ascertain without the ability to compare volunteer demographics and other metrics," said BMO Capital Markets analyst George Farmer. "Nevertheless, at current MRNA trading levels we think the Street will regard an efficacy rate of >90% as positive. An efficacy rate of <90% could be interpreted negatively, in our view."