Investing Ideas For Flu Season

The influenza virus is a dynamic bug that changes annually which means health conscious consumers get a new cocktail of viruses in their vaccinations each year. Of course, flu shots are still a crapshoot since unpredictable mutations are always a possibility.

Flu season is in full swing. This year, the Center for Disease Control has targeted the following 3 strains, a couple you may even recognize from years past.
  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Victoria/36/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses)

Recently a few companies have added to the troika of viruses to make a better flu shot. Quadrivalent vaccines target 4 strains to cast an even wider net. This type of vaccine was approved by the FDA in March this year.  A few US companies are already developing these vaccines.

Astrazeneca (AZN) has FDA approval on its quadrivalent nasal spray vaccines, Flumist in the US and Fluenz in Europe. They are produced by its subsidiary MedImmune. These will roll out for the next flu season. The company was able to secure a contract with the UK to provide ~155 mil. worth of Fluenz for kids with production really ramping up in 2014.

Glaxosmithkline (GSK) and Sanofi Pastuer (SNY) are not far behind. GSK has applied for licenses to make quadrivalent versions of its ccurrent influenza vaccines, Fluarix and FluLavel, for the end of 2012 and 2013 respectively. Sanofi is also awaiting FDA approval.


Stock performance in the past year for the big companies making the 4 strain vaccine:

Novartis (NVS) is still a few years away from a four-strain vaccine. After halting European production of its flu vaccines earlier this year, Novartis has come back with US approval for Flucelvax. This new vaccine uses mammalian cell cultures instead of chicken eggs in production. But the product is restricted for the 18+ crowd.

Looking into farther in flu’s future, there are a handful of US biotech companies trying to develop a universal flu vaccine that will be effective in any year for any flu. Dynavax Technologis (DVAX) has partnered with the big players above for a few other non-flu vaccinations. It’s still testing a potential universal flu vaccine. Inovio (INO) is another contender which won a 3.1 million grant 2 years back to research universal flu options.

Those who don’t like shots or sprays can keep an eye on UV Flu Technologies. The company is developing a product called UV-Aid that uses ultraviolet light to stimulate the body’s defense system in areas where influenza is typically contracted like the ear or nose.

Business Section: Investing Ideas

While there is still no flu panacea of sorts, the morphing disease has kept things interesting for biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the vaccine business.

Quadrivalent solutions may see better profit margins in a limited market of about 130-150 million Americans (less than half) each year. For big firms, flu vaccines are a minor source of revenue. For example, The business brings in about $718 mil for Novartis, less than 2% of yearly revenue.

But small companies have taken the unpredictable into their hands, on the lookout for better, more stable solutions to influenza. Think of the vaccine shortage in 2004 or the 2009 “swine” flue pandemic. These are ongoing issues that don’t have reliable protective measures.



Major flu vaccine manufacturers:

1. AstraZeneca PLC ( AZN, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Develops, and commercializes prescription medicines for cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, oncology, and respiratory and inflammation diseases worldwide. Market cap at $57.66B, most recent closing price at $46.31.


2. GlaxoSmithKline plc ( GSK, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Engages in the discovery, development, manufacture, and marketing of pharmaceutical products, over the counter (OTC) medicines, and health-related consumer products worldwide. Market cap at $105.01B, most recent closing price at $42.73.


3. Sanofi ( SNY, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Engages in the discovery, development, and distribution of therapeutic solutions to improve the lives of everyone. Market cap at $118.38B, most recent closing price at $44.66.


4. Novartis AG ( NVS, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Engages in the research, development, manufacture, and marketing of healthcare products worldwide. Market cap at $164.35B, most recent closing price at $60.73.


Companies developing a universal vaccine:

5. Dynavax Technologies Corporation ( DVAX, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Dynavax Technologies Corporation, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, discovers and develops novel products to prevent and treat infectious diseases. Market cap at $514.68M, most recent closing price at $2.88.


6. Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ( INO, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Engages in the discovery, development, and delivery of DNA vaccines with a focus on cancers and infectious diseases. Market cap at $64.11M, most recent closing price at $0.46.




Written by Freda Ding