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Moderna stock plunges following mixed analyst reviews of cancer vaccine data

Moderna's (MRNA) stock dropped Monday despite positive news over the weekend from a Phase 2 trial of its personalized cancer vaccine in partnership with Merck (MRK).

The data from the trial provided support for the potential of a vaccine helping cancer patients, but some analysts think the road ahead is long and tough.

"We see a strong and exciting proof-of-concept signal for personalized vaccination, but a longish and complex path to bringing this therapy to melanoma patients and beyond," wrote SVB Securities Analyst Mani Foroohar.

The bull case for the stock centers around the results of the trial, which shows reduced rates of cancer recurrence after therapy, by 44%, and was 77% effective after 18 months, in combination with Merck's Keytruda, versus Keytruda alone.

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But, on the flip side, "bears point to baseline imbalances between study arms, a small trial with a liberal threshold for statistical signal, and evolving standard-of-care in melanoma towards immunotherapy in the neo-adjuvant setting," Foroohar said.

The vaccine results were important for Moderna's bottom line, as the company only has one product on the market — its COVID-19 vaccine that it developed with the help of the U.S. government. The cancer vaccine would be the first time that the mRNA platform would be used outside COVID.

CHINA - 2022/07/25: In this photo illustration, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna logo is displayed on a smartphone screen. (Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
CHINA - 2022/07/25: In this photo illustration, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna logo is displayed on a smartphone screen. (Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

Moderna is also simultaneously working on combination flu and COVID vaccines as well as for RSV. The flu vaccine was less impressive than investors had hoped, but Moderna still expects to make it to the finish line in time for the 2024 flu season.

Moderna's 2023 outlook is not as robust as the more than $18 billion windfall it saw from the COVID vaccine in 2022, and as a result investors are watching the pipeline closely as COVID shot uptake wanes globally.

JPMorgan analysts said in a note that the data over the weekend was encouraging, but said it wasn't "wildly better than expectations."

"Net-net, we remain encouraged by the progress of MRNA’s pipeline that demonstrates the versatility of the mRNA platform (INT, RSV), but we believe uncertainty around the near-term financial outlook, which remains largely tied to COVID, may limit near-term outperformance," the analysts added.

Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem

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