Overall, the stock markets have been gaining in recent months. October saw a 2% bump for the general S&P 500 index, as did the Dow Jones average. But not all market segments are created equal, and some brought stronger returns for investors than others. The biotech industry, for example, had a particularly good month in the stock markets.
The Biotech ETF, a sub-index of the NASDAQ that tracks the performance of stocks in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, rose 8% last month, four times the broader market’s average. The gains were led by the big names in the sector, but smaller stocks were also showing strength. Analysts from Needham, one of Wall Street’s top financial research firms, have picked out three small-cap biotechs that are showing a combination of recent gains and fantastic upside.
Akcea Therapeutics (AKCA)
A publicly traded company since July 2017, Akcea focuses on treatments for rare, serious diseases. The company’s main approved product, Tegsedi, treats “polyneuropathy caused by hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis” in adults. The drug is available in the US, Canada, and the EU. Waylivra, for the treatment of familial chylomicronemia syndrome, has been approved in the EU.
Akcea has an active research pipeline with new drugs in all stages of testing, from pre-clinical to up to the FDA registration process. Most of Akcea’s products are for the treatment of cardiometabolic lipid disorders.
In the Q3 earnings report, Akcea beat the EPS forecast by 38%, showing a net loss of 34 cents per share against the forecast 55 cents. In addition to beating the estimate, the quarterly EPS also showed a strong improvement from the year-ago quarterly loss of 58 cents. During the month of October, AKCA gained 24%, triple the overall biotech sector gains.
Needham’s 4-star analyst Chad Messer writes of AKCA shares, “AKCA shares could go higher if the company can establish a pathway to approval for Waylivra with the FDA in FCS, if Waylivra reports positive data in FPL, or AKCEA-APOCIII-LRx, AKCEA-APO(a)-LRx, or AKECA-ANGPTL3-LRx report positive Phase II data. AKCA shares could also be driven higher by higher than expected sales for Tegsedi in FAP-ATTR.” Messer gives AKCA stock a $45 price target, implying a 127% upside and reflecting his optimism on the company’s path forward in the regulatory processes.
With 3 recent Buy ratings, and only 1 Hold, AKCA has a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus. Shares sell for a modest $19.53, and the $40.50 average price target suggests an upside potential of 104%. (See Akcea stock analysis on TipRanks)
As its name suggests, Dermira is a pharmaceutical company focusing on dermatalogical issues, that is, on the treatment of chronic skin conditions. It’s easy to overlook, but the skin is the largest organ of the human body, and fills a wide range of rolls from keeping our insides in while keeping the outside out, to helping us regulate our body temperature.
Dermira’s first approved products, Qbrexza, is a medicated cloth designed to treat hyperhidrosis – extreme sweating – in the armpits. The company also has Lebrikizumab, a treatment for atopic dermatitis, has just entered Phase 3 testing. Other projects are still in the pre-clinical testing phases.
Like AKCA above, Dermira showed a strong Q3 despite operating at a net loss. The net loss per earning was $1.06, a 24% improvement from the expected EPS loss of $1.40. This marked the third time in the past year that DERM has beating the earnings forecast. The positive earnings news came after the stock had gained 15% in October.
In a November 6 report on DERM, Needham analyst Serge Belanger focused on the company’s two main pharmaceutical products. He wrote, “The bulk of the recent DERM news flow revolved around lebrikizumab and its ph 3 program that got underway in mid-Oct. The 3Q19 financials and update mostly centered around the launch progression of Qbrexza, which generated sales of $10.2MM, surpassing Street expectations… Qbrexza is on pace to meet the low-$30MM 2019 sales guidance.”
Belanger maintained his firm’s Buy rating on this stock, and gave it a $20 price target. His target implies a 185% potential to the upside.
DERM gets a Strong Buy analyst consensus rating, with 3 Buys set in just the past week. The stock is a bargain price, at $7, but the potential of its new drugs and its research pipeline give it a high average price target of $19, and an impressively robust upside potential of 171%. (See Dermira stock analysis on TipRanks)
G1 Therapeutics (GTHX)
Once an almost certainly deadly, new treatments in recent years have brought hope to many cancer patients. G1 has a series of drugs in testing for small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. The lung cancer treatments are in late stage testing and scheduled for regulatory submission in 2020. Also in 2020, the breast cancer and colorectal cancer treatments are scheduled to start trials.
G1 shares were mostly flat in October, reflecting the differences between this company and the two listed above: where its peers above showed strong positive surprises in Q3 earnings, G1’s EPS loss was in line with estimates at 86 cents. Without any strong earnings surprise, and without any products post-approval, G1 did not shake up the expectations.
Where this stock shines, however, is in long-term performance and forward potential. GTHX is up 20% year-to-date, a reflection of the hopes pinned on the latent possibilities of new cancer treatments. Chad Messer, quoted above, touches on this in his report on GTHX when he writes, “G1 remains on track to file a trilaciclib NDA and MAA in 2020 for myelopreservation in small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The next driver for GTHX is updated results from the Phase Ib study of lerociclib…” Messer’s price target of $74 suggests an upside of 223% to the stock – significantly higher than that implied for the stocks above.
Messer is not the only analyst impressed by GTHX’s prospects in the cancer treatment research field. The stock has Buy ratings from 6 analysts recently, making its consensus rating a unanimous Strong Buy. Shares are trading for $22.82, and the average stock-price forecast of $65.50 indicates an upside potential of 169%. (See GTHX stock analysis on TipRanks)