In the race to develop vaccines against COVID-19, various pharmaceutical and biotech companies have made use of a number of innovative methods. Messenger-RNA vaccines. Electroporation devices that deliver DNA plasmid vaccines directly into patients' cells. And, in the case of Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT), a coronavirus vaccine that can be taken orally in tablet form.

Assuming that it eventually proves effective and passes regulatory muster, Vaxart's tablet could become one of the best ways to get people vaccinated in the developing world, where logistics are more difficult and healthcare providers have limited access to the cold storage facilities that the leading injectable vaccine candidates require.

With Vaxart stock up by around 1,980% year to date, is there still room for new investors to profit?

A doctor handing. patient pills

Image source: Getty Images

Does it work?

Vaxart's tablet-based vaccine work didn't begin with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The company was previously working on an oral vaccine for seasonal flu. In fact, Vaxart published results from its Phase 2 trials of that candidate just as the coronavirus was beginning to trek around the globe. That study showed the company's offering was slightly more effective in preventing the flu than market-leader Sanofi's (NASDAQ:SNY) Fluzone. 

Understandably given the circumstances, Vaxart shifted focus rapidly to the fight against COVID-19. By February, it had developed three candidates, and by May, had narrowed its efforts down to one for further testing. Results in hamsters -- which provide a good proxy for the human immune system -- showed positive results, and in October, the company inoculated the first humans in its Phase 1 trial.

What lies ahead?

Vaxart has lined up manufacturing partnerships with Emergent Biosolutions (NYSE:EBS), Kindred Biosciences (NASDAQ:KIN), as well as Attwill Medical Solutions, should its vaccine eventually receive approval. Management expects to have phase 1 trial results by January. In the meantime, the company will have to respond to lawsuits alleging it inflated its relationship with Operation Warp Speed so that insiders could gain from the spike in stock price.

Given its successes thus far in developing a flu vaccine, and its ability to transfer what it learned in that process to the development of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, Vaxart has the potential to become a key global player in the fight against the coronavirus. Investing in small biotechs is a gamble, but I think Vaxart's overwhelming potential outweighs the risks. However, due to those risks and the large number of competitors working toward similar goals, I would keep my position in the stock small.

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