Expert reveals top pandemic ETF play – up 58% in 12 months

COVID variants are likely to drive longer-term demand for mRNA vaccines.

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Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are hardly new. Or at least the wider concept isn't.

Depending on how narrowly you define ETFs, they've been around for either 13 some years, or well over 20.

But one thing is clear.

As ever more retail investors have entered the market in recent years, ETFs have exploded in popularity. That's because, with a single investment, they can offer you exposure to a large selection of shares, helping diversify your portfolio without having to extensively research every holding yourself.

Below we look at a COVID-19 vaccine exchange traded fund that Bloomberg Intelligence ETF analyst Eric Balchunas says "has a lot of potential".

But first…

The pandemic's silver bullet?

As it stands, the world's leading COVID-19 vaccines rely on something called messenger RNA. You've likely heard that referred to as mRNA.

In a nutshell, mRNA acts as a kind of targeted delivery system that enables your own immune system to better squelch a virus, or potentially other types of disease.

Atop the current success in tackling the coronavirus, mRNA vaccines could potentially treat cancers, the flu, malaria…the list goes on.

While biotech companies have been working on mRNA since the first officially labelled ETFs came out 13 years ago, the global pandemic has turbocharged their development. And we could be hearing a lot more about this cutting-edge biotech in the years ahead.

According to John Bowler, manager of the Schroder Global Healthcare Fund (quoted by Bloomberg):

The beauty of mRNA technology is the speed, in that once you have the genetic sequence, you can identify exactly what you need to put in the code of your vaccine, and you are giving instructions to the target that the immune system can respond to. It really changes the whole dynamic on infectious diseases.

One ETF holds dozens of vaccine developers

Two of the most successful names in the COVID vaccine race are Moderna INC (NASDAQ: MRNA) and BioNTech SE (NASDAQ: BNTX).

Moderna was founded in 2010 in the US state of Massachusetts. The company is a forerunner in mRNA research to treat a range of diseases. And when the COVID pandemic hit, Moderna's boffins went to work overtime.

Since 21 February 2020, when the most of the share market began to tank on early pandemic fears, Moderna's share price has soared 2,280%. In the past 12 months alone, it's gained 531%.

German biotechnology company BioNTech has also had huge success in combatting COVID together with its partner Pfizer Inc (NYSE: PFE). BioNTech was founded in 2008 and, before the pandemic, largely focused on using mRNA biotech to treat cancer.

The BioNTech share price is up 410% over the past 12 months.

But there's a lot more to the mRNA and the wider vaccine sector than Moderna and BioNTech. There are dozens of listed biotech companies working on improved COVID vaccines and other cutting edge treatments. We may not have heard of them yet but that may not be the case next year.

With that in mind we turn to ETFMG Treatments Testing and Advancements ETF (NYSEARCA: GERM). (Gotta love the ticker!)

Some 90% of the ETF's holdings are based in the United States and Germany.

Moderna, at 11.6%, is its top holding. BioNTech, at 8.8%, is number 2. It also holds more than 30 smaller, lesser-known (for now) companies. You can find a complete list of GERM's holdings here.

Commenting on GERM, Bloomberg's Balchunas said, "You're getting almost completely original exposure and there are some very small companies in here that could be future Modernas with the next big thing. That gives GERM a lot of potential M&A [mergers and acquisitions] pop."

The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has recommended Moderna Inc. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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