The coronavirus continues to take a toll on the world. As I write this, there are more than 40,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 900 deaths. Those figures are expected to continue rising. A few days ago in China, 97 people were killed in just one day. The outbreak is getting more and more deadly.
A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, has been docked in Japan since Tuesday when a passenger tested positive for the coronavirus. There are more than 3,700 people on board; 2,600 of those people are passengers who thought they were taking the vacation of a lifetime and instead are now quarantined. There have been 61 confirmed cases of the virus since the first passenger tested positive. So far, the quarantine is expected to last until at least February 19.
Two other cruise ships in Asia have had their trips disrupted because of the virus. The Westerdam is having a difficult time finding a port to dock in after being turned away from Taiwan and Japan because of contamination fears. The World Dream cruise ship has been quarantined since Wednesday after eight of its former passengers also tested positive.
Cruise ships, even if quarantined, can become a huge breeding ground for the virus. Places where infected people may have been might have not been disinfected properly. On Monday, the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted 398 people under investigation for the novel coronavirus in 37 states. Twelve of those have tested positive, 318 tested negative, and 68 are still pending. Those figures are all cumulative from January 21.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said:
“Once you get a diffuse outbreak throughout the world, you’re not going to be able to control it by travel restrictions. You’re going to have to do what we call mitigation, or dampen the effect within a country. Clearly we’re not there yet. We still have very few cases. But we need to be alert to the possibility that this will get worse.”
That’s the main concern going forward — not letting things get any worse. It’s been a top priority to contain the virus but also to find a vaccine to combat it. This has caused a race among biotechnology companies to develop drugs that can fight the coronavirus. Needham’s Alan Carr said, “It appears at least a few programs will have moved into clinical testing within a few months.”
The coronavirus has had investors fleeing risk assets because of concerns it’ll disrupt the global economy. However, it has benefited a number of biotech companies who have started to increase programs to battle the disease. Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ: VIR) has been up 111% in the past month, and Novavax (NASDAQ: NVAX) has gained 91% in the past month.
Carr said, “At least a dozen companies have informally or formally announced vaccine or drug development initiatives to address [the virus].” Though some of these programs have already been in the works to treat other viruses, researchers are seeing if they can be used to combat the coronavirus.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INO) announced it’s developing a vaccine for coronavirus, and its stock skyrocketed 37% in January. However, analysts are warning investors to be cautious because commercial treatments could be years away.
Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) has come forward to say that it’s working on a potential vaccine, which has Morgan Stanley analysts bullish. Matthew Harrison, the bank’s analyst, said:
“Moderna has a potential benefit over traditional vaccine makers in that once it has the sequences that code for the most immunogenic part of the virus’ surface proteins, or antigens, management can rapidly make a clinical development candidate.”
Companies are taking full advantage of the major opportunity that has arisen from the coronavirus. Being the first to provide a vaccine or treatment would be groundbreaking and put the company in an extremely favorable light. The relentlessness of trying to find a vaccine or treatment to reduce any further deaths and infections is admirable. This is the time for biotech to shine.