By Jaimy Lee
As COVID-19 case counts and deaths continue to rise and the stock market has struggled to regain its footing, one bright spot are the drugmakers and diagnostics companies moving forward with plans to develop tests, treatments, and vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
Pfizer, which has developed and marketed other vaccines, entered the COVID-19 vaccine race, saying Tuesday that it is working with BioNTech SE to help the German life sciences company develop and potentially distribute its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. In trading on Tuesday morning, Pfizer’s stock gained 4%, and shares of BioNTech soared 57%.
The first participant in Moderna Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +4.54% closely watched Phase 1 trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate received a dose of mRNA-1273, the company said Monday. Moderna is running the trial in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the goal of evaluating the safety of the vaccine in 45 participants, who are all healthy adults. Moderna’s stock is up 13%.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals /zigman2/quotes/203149337/composite REGN +4.12% said Monday it started enrolling patients in a Phase 2/3 trial in New York testing Kevzara, a rheumatoid arthritis drug it developed with Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/201967021/composite SNY +2.30% , as a treatment for people who have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infections. Specifically, the companies want to know what impact Kevzara has on a patient’s fever and need for supplemental oxygen. The trial is expected to enroll up to 400 patients.
Regeneron is also planning to test antibodies in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 in clinical trials later this summer. Shares of Regeneron gained 10%; Sanofi’s stock was up 0.2%.
In the U.S., there are now 5,702 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 94 have died, according to the most recent data from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Centers for Systems Science and Engineering.
Experts have said they expect the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. to be much higher; however, there have been both issues and delays with the test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The public health agency said 25,162 COVID-19 tests have been performed in the U.S., as of March 16. This includes 4,255 specimens tested by the CDC and 20,907 tests performed by public health laboratories using the CDC’s testing kit, between Jan. 18 and March 16. The CDC, which has not conducted a test since March 12, has been criticized by the low rates of testing, especially when compared with testing rates in other countries, like South Korea, which has tested more than 260,000 people, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of commercial diagnostics makers including Hologic Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201671131/composite HOLX +3.36% , Roche Holding AG /zigman2/quotes/206324342/delayed CH:ROG -1.59% and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201150432/composite TMO +2.25% have recently said they received emergency use authorization from the Food and Administration for their COVID-19 tests. Roche said Monday it started shipping 400,000 test kits last Friday, and plans to ship an additional 400,000 tests to the U.S. immediately. Thermo said Monday it is ready to ship 1.5 million tests and that it has the capacity to send 5 million tests a week in April. Hologic Inc. plans to produce up to 600,000 tests in April for the U.S.
President Donald Trump on Monday called for Americans to radically curtail daily activities for 15 days, to slow the spread of the disease in the U.S. He told people not to gather in groups of 10 or more or to visit restaurants or bars. The Kaiser Permanente health system has postponed all elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures. A set of new rules in San Francisco only allows people to leave their homes for doctor’s visits or food shopping unless they work in what the city calls an “essential business,” such as being a health care worker or garbage collector.
On Tuesday morning, some of the nation’s most prominent retailers and restaurant chains announced significant changes to their operations over the coming weeks, with fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203508018/composite MCD +3.14% moving to a takeout or delivery model and discount retailer Dollar General Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200691429/composite DG +1.75% asking people to allow senior citizens to shop during the first hour its stores are open.
Worldwide, there are now 194,217 cases of COVID-19 and at least 7,864 people have died. More than 80,000 people have recovered. In Western Europe, where the outbreaks appear to still be worsening, Italy has 31,506 cases and 2,503 deaths; Spain has 11,309 cases and 509 deaths; Germany has 8,604 cases and 23 deaths; and France has 6,664 cases and 148 deaths.
In South Korea, there are 8,320 cases and 81 deaths. And Iran, which is combating a severe outbreak of the novel coronavirus, has 16,169 cases and 988 deaths.
Here’s what companies are saying about COVID-19:
• Foot Locker Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204092533/composite FL -1.68% has closed stores across North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia and Malaysia through March 31. The athletic retailer has also withdrawn its full-year outlook and plans to provide an update with its first-quarter earnings announcement on May 22.
• Michaels Companies Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207984083/composite MIK +5.04% gave an outlook ahead of expectations but that didn’t take into account the impact of the coronavirus. Mark Cosby, Michaels CEO, said the company doesn’t expect “material supply chain disruptions” in the first quarter but sales in certain categories are slowing.