Pfizer's COVID-19 Pill Has Mixed Results for Healthcare ETFs

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) is seeking FDA approval for a COVID-19 pill that is highly effective against severe cases of the coronavirus, lifting pharmaceutical sector-related exchange traded funds but dragging on biotech-related ETFs with exposure to some of the company’s biggest competitors.

On Friday, the iShares U.S. Pharmaceuticals ETF (NYSEArca: IHE) rose 0.3%, while the VanEck Vectors Biotech ETF (BBH) declined 4.1% and the iShares Biotechnology ETF (IBB) decreased 3.7%.

Meanwhile, Pfizer shares advanced 8.4%. PFE makes up 19.9% of IHE.

Pfizer said that preliminary results from its study indicated that its experimental drug, called Paxlovid, cuts the risk of hospitalization or death in study subjects with mild to moderate COVID-19 by about 89% if they take the pill within three days of diagnosis, the Wall Street Journal reports. The drug was also generally safe and well-tolerated in early studies, the company said.

“Today’s news could be a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.

COVID-19 vaccine competitors took a severe hit following the announcement. Moderna (NasdaqGS: MRNA) shares plunged 20.5% and Novavax (NasdaqGS: NVAX) declined 13.6%. MRNA makes up 10.2% of IBB’s underlying portfolio, and NVAX makes up 3.5% of BBH.

Pfizer plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for authorization of the new drug this month, and the company could begin delivering doses this year if given the green light from regulators, Pfizer chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten said.

“It’s stunning data,” Dr. Dolsten told the WSJ. ”I feel very optimistic on a day like this. For everyone living in this pandemic, a new light of hope has turned on.”

Pfizer’s proposed COVID-19 drug is the second COVID-19 pill that is seeking FDA approval. Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP recently came out with their own antiviral pill that was cleared for use in the U.K. this week, but it is still up for U.S. authorization.

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