Merck Shares Soar on COVID-19 Pill Trial Results, Vaccine Stocks Dip

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
October 2, 2021 Updated: October 2, 2021

Shares of Merck & Co surged on positive clinical trial results of its experimental antiviral COVID-19 pill while high-flying stocks of vaccine companies and makers of other coronavirus therapies were bruised.

Merck shares jumped as much as 12.3 percent and hit their highest level since February 2020 after data showed the company’s pill molnupiravir could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19.

Meanwhile, shares of vaccine makers such as Moderna Inc, Pfizer Inc, and partner BioNTech SE crumbled. Moderna shares fell 13 percent in midday trading, while Pfizer, which is developing a COVID-19 pill of its own, fell 1.3 percent. U.S. shares of BioNTech dropped 11 percent.

Profit-taking was a likely factor behind the selloffs, some analysts said. Others believe the promise of an oral drug that can be taken at home could change the public perception of risks associated with COVID-19.

“We see modest perceived headwind to vaccine stocks such as MRNA (Moderna) if the market thinks people will be less afraid of COVID-19 and less inclined to get vaccines, if there is a simple pill that can treat COVID-19,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee wrote in a client note.

Despite the recent dip, Moderna shares are up over 395 percent over the past year and 1,734 percent over the past five years. Pfizer stock is up nearly 25 percent over the past year and around 35 percent over the past five years.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2 or the novel coronavirus.

Merck said Friday that results from a clinical trial into its COVID-19 pill cut the risk of hospitalization or death in half for adults who were deemed at risk but not hospitalized.

Based on the findings, Merck plans to apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) soon for emergency use authorization for its drug, which works by inhibiting the replication of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The only drugs authorized to treat COVID-19 so far are monoclonal antibodies, which run over $2,000 each and take more time to administer than a pill.

However, clinical trials on drugs approved for other uses, including the antidepressant fluvoxamine and cytokine inhibitors sarilumab and tocilizumab, have shown tentative or mixed evidence against the disease.

Ivermectin, an inexpensive antiparasitic drug, has been mired in controversy, with a group of Republican lawmakers supporting doctors who advocate for the right to use it to fight COVID-19, while physician and pharmacist groups, including the American Medical Association, strongly oppose prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients.

Zachary Stieber and Reuters contributed to this report.

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'