By Lewis Krauskopf
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Clinical data on potential treatments for the new coronavirus could help sustain a market bounce that has buoyed stocks after last month’s plunge, as investors look for signs that authorities may be able to stabilize the pandemic.
Highly anticipated data for a Gilead Sciences Inc <GILD.O> experimental antiviral drug are expected later this month. Analysts are also awaiting results in the near-term for products already approved for other conditions from companies such as Roche Holding <ROG.S> and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals <REGN.O>.
While experts estimate an approved vaccine could be at least a year away, progress toward treatments that benefit some COVID-19 patients could help investors gauge when the epidemic could come under control and some economic activity might resume.
“The more we see positive clinical data, the more investors will be comforted in the fact that this is a transitory issue like all epidemics are,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities.
Early signs of a slowdown in hospitalizations and intensive care needs in coronavirus hotspots in the United States and abroad have fed a stock market turnaround sparked by massive support from the Federal Reserve and a more than $2 trillion government bailout. As of Monday, the S&P 500 <.SPX> was off about 21% from its Feb. 19 all-time high but had rebounded 19% since March 23.
“With each incremental piece of good news, that gets us closer to the end of the epidemic and the economic damage that falls in its wake,” Hogan said.
New York is nearing a plateau in the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday, even though the number of the deaths in the state hit a single-day high.
Governments around the world have locked down their communities – urging citizens to stay inside and ordering restaurants, stores and other businesses shuttered – to contain the spread of COVID-19 cases, which have exceeded 1.4 million globally with over 80,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.
Drugmakers are studying ways to combat the respiratory illness, for which there are no approved treatments, as hospitals face strains from the flood of patients.
HUNDREDS OR TRIALS UNDERWAY
More than 330 clinical studies related to COVID-19 are listed in clinicaltrials.gov, a database maintained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, including many seeking to test drugs already approved for other conditions.
Gilead’s remdesivir, which is administered intravenously, is one experimental treatment that has captured investors’ attention. The biotechnology company’s chief executive on March 28 said initial data would arrive in the “coming weeks” https://www.gilead.com/stories/articles/an-open-letter-from-our-chairman-and-ceo and analysts said data could come in mid April.
Remdesivir previously failed as a treatment for the Ebola virus. But it helped prevent disease and reduce severity of symptoms in monkeys infected with a virus more closely related to the new coronavirus in a study, raising hopes.
Some analysts are cautioning against expecting that remdesivir will show an overwhelming benefit.
Initial data are expected to come from studies of patients with relatively severe COVID-19. Because antivirals work best when patients are healthier, those results may show limited effectiveness, said Evan Seigerman, a biotech analyst at Credit Suisse.
Even if remdesivir proves effective, the amount of the drug that would be available remains a concern. Gilead said last weekend https://www.gilead.com/stories/articles/an-update-on-covid-19-from-our-chairman-and-ceo its existing supply could equate to more than 140,000 courses of treatment.
Data is also anticipated for Regeneron <REGN.O> and Sanofi’s <SASY.PA> Kevzara, perhaps by the end of the month, and for Roche’s <ROG.S> Actemra – two similar rheumatoid arthritis drugs being tested for COVID-19 illness.
Studies are also ongoing for hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria drug that has been used by doctors for COVID-19 despite controversy over its effectiveness.
“Just knowing that something works means investors can start thinking about the other side of this,” said Keith Lerner, chief market strategist at Truist/SunTrust Advisory Services, in emailed comments to Reuters, “both from a human side and an economic and market perspective.”
(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Ira Iosebashvili and Bill Berkrot)