(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Canadians have some domestic options to invest in COVID buzz, says biotech CEO

Relatively few Canadians do invest in U.S. biopharma, according to financial data firm Refinitiv

Canadians looking for profitable stocks related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic have plenty of homegrown options, but investing in small domestic firms carries elevated risks as well as rewards.

BetterLife Pharmaceuticals Inc. is one such company. The Vancouver firm is in final testing on a treatment for cases in which a vaccine doesn’t work or patients refuse to be inoculated.

“We have a Made-in-Canada solution,” says founder and CEO Dr. Ahmad Doroudian. His company has worked with the National Research Council and Toronto immunologist Dr. Eleanor Fish.

The company has developed an inhalable method to treat COVID-19 patients by helping the immune system to defeat the virus.

“We think we can make an impact. We absolutely think we’re going to be part of a treatment cocktail that’s going to be needed to contain this infection in years to come.”

Other names include Algernon Pharmaceuticals Inc., IMV — which is working on a vaccine — and WELL Health Technologies Corp., which offers antibody tests.

Investing in biotechnology is by nature risky, Doroudian concedes, but the rewards are much larger than investing in a global vaccine developer like Pfizer, whose shares are more stable.

While shares of small biotech firms can surge or plunge based on clinical results, their trading prices are much lower.

BetterLife’s shares have traded between 40 cents and $3 over the last 52 weeks with its market capitalization currently standing at $28.5 million. Pfizer’s value is US$227 billion based on a US$40.84 share price.

Other Canadian biotech firms are private but have partnered with large multinationals that are available for investment. For example, Medicago is working with GSK.

Vancouver’s AbCellera Biologics Inc. and Eli Lilly and Company have co-developed the anti COVID drug bamlanivimab to treat patients with mild or moderate symptoms that has received emergency use approval in Canada and the United States.

Approval comes as AbCellera seeks to raise US$200 million through an IPO on the Nasdaq Global Market.

The hype over the biotech company has grown with the announcement that Facebook early investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has joined its board of directors.

Yet, buying into a company that’s launching an initial public offering because they have a promising COVID treatment or vaccine can be risky, warns Les Stelmach, portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton Canada.

“Definitely, buyer beware,” he said from Calgary.

For the most part, Canadian investors have to turn to the U.S. to get direct access to pharmaceutical efforts to combat COVID, especially for vaccines.

Even before the virus, investors needed to look outside Canada to build a reasonable position in health care because the sector is dramatically under-represented in the TSX, said Craig Fehr, investment strategist at Edward Jones.

“We’re not necessarily advising our clients to look at specific investments that are the vaccine play per se. But we do think health care should be a meaningful part of any well-diversified equity portfolio because the secular and the cyclical opportunities that exist in that space are compelling to us,” he said in an interview.

Relatively few Canadians do invest in U.S. biopharma, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Just 1.4 per cent of Pfizer’s shareholders are Canadians. They hold 78.1 million shares valued at US$2.86 billion. The ratio for GSK is 1.42 per cent, 1.16 per cent for Eli Lilly, 1.36 per cent for Gilead and 0.58 per cent for Moderna.

Still, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are attracting heightened investment interest after each announced COVID vaccines.

“I think you buy Pfizer because it’s a good drug company. They make money, and they have a good drug pipeline of new and promising products. It’s not just a play on COVID,” said Stelmach.

Investing in small- and mid-cap biotech companies is difficult because they generally rely heavily on a single source of revenues, said Mike Archibald, vice-president and portfolio manager with AGF Investments Inc.

As a generalist investor Archibald said he doesn’t want to focus a lot of his portfolio that can surge on regulatory approval but collapse on negative news.

“When I’m putting together a portfolio, those are bets that I generally don’t make. And if I’m gonna make them, I usually make them in very, very small percentage increments and would require a large amount of due diligence to ensure that I understand exactly what the potential outcomes are.”

A good strategy for most Canadian retail investors is instead to focus on the positive impact of vaccines on the general economy, said Anish Chopra, managing director with Portfolio Management Corp.

“If you’re looking at reopening trades you’re starting to see them in the marketplace which would be old economy types of industries such as financial services, energy, hospitality.”

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusInvesting

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bella Coola Valley Arts Council’s (BCVAC) Ida Eriksen enjoys a full life since retiring to the Bella Coola Valley Coola in 2013. She volunteers for BCVAC and likes to carve out time for art, gardening and hiking. (Photo submitted)
Art House Gallery keeps community connections close during COVID times

An art sale of the artwork of Ernest and Jill Hall will take place this weekend

A grass fire west of Williams Lake, seen here Tuesday, is considered to be being held by members of the BC Wildfire Service. (Photo submitted)
Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

A black bear tries to get at a bird feeder at a home near Williams Lake. (Laura Ulrich photo)
Managing bear attractants a top priority in B.C. for 2021: Conservation Officer Service

Garbage, fruit trees, bird feeders, compost and livestock are common attractants for bears

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Since April 4, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Vancouver the largest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases: data

This month alone, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived

Most Read