Anywhere you turn, COVID-19's impact can be seen. The deadly virus’ romp around the world and the lockdowns that ensued have had a devastating effect on the economy, with this made abundantly clear by the decline in GDP as well as the high unemployment rate.
What else came out of the global pandemic? The crisis has thrust biotechs into the spotlight, with the companies racing to find solutions being cheered by investors. To this end, share prices are flying sky-high and valuations have gone through the roof. This, however, begs the question, are these stocks running on empty?
According to the pros on the Street, for two biotechs, the answer is no. To get the full scoop, we ran the tickers through TipRanks’ database, discovering that both Buy-rated stocks boast massive upside potential from current levels.
Working around the clock to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, Novavax has already seen its share price skyrocket over 4,000% since the turn of the year. Following the release of Phase 1 results for its candidate, some analysts believe that this stock isn’t done surging just yet.
Representing J.P. Morgan, four-star analyst Eric Joseph tells clients he was “pleasantly impressed by the initial immunogenicity/safety profile for NVX-CoV2373 in the Phase 1 vaccine results.” He added, “While we’d still caution against reading too concretely across the various CoV2 vaccine datasets, we believe it’s not too far a stretch to conclude the nAb activity of NVX-CoV2373 looks best-in-class, particularly when anchored to one of the more (if not most) stringent human convalescent sera (HSC) cohorts reported to date.”
Looking more closely at the data, with the focus on relative neutralizing antibody (nAb) activity rather than HCS, mean Day 35 titer among patients treated with repeat 5μg injections was roughly 4x higher than HCS. Reported nAb activity was based on 100% neutralization of COVID-19 versus 50% virus neutralization with most of competitive datasets thus far.
“In that context, were all else equal, we believe the 4x titer increase for NVX-CoV2373 likely understates its relative immunogenicity when compared with the ~2-4x titers over HCS seen across the competitive field,” Joseph commented.
On top of this, the analyst argues that the reference HCS samples in the Phase 1 dataset are “comparative high bar, having drawn predominantly from moderate-to-severe COVID-19 patients.” It should also be noted that while qualitative in nature, adjuvanted NVX-CoV2373 patients demonstrated functional, Th1 biased CD4+ T cell responses at Day 28. When it comes to the candidate’s safety profile, Joseph is comfortable with the tolerability levels witnessed thus far.
All of this is incredibly promising, but there are multiple challenges in the COVID vaccine landscape, namely the outstanding question of how protective anti-S antibodies will be in the broader and/or higher risk population. However, with the experimental vaccine “looking every bit the contender in Phase 1,” Joseph believes “relative valuations favor NVAX over the near-term ahead of the first of the competitor Phase 3 vaccine efficacy readouts.”
Everything that NVAX has going for it convinced Joseph to join the bulls. In addition to upgrading the rating from Neutral to Overweight, the analyst bumped up the price target from $105 to $275. This target suggests shares could climb 61% higher in the year ahead. (To watch Joseph’s track record, click here)
The bulls represent the majority on this one. Out of 5 total reviews published in the last three months, 4 analysts rated the stock a Buy while 1 said Sell. So, NVAX gets a Moderate Buy consensus rating. With a $227.60 average price target, shares could surge 34% in the next twelve months. (See Novavax stock analysis on TipRanks)
Sorrento Therapeutics (SRNE)
Also scoring plenty of headlines recently, Sorrento Therapeutics is developing several potential weapons to aid in the battle against COVID-19. Based on a recent announcement made by the company, the news could get even better for this healthcare name, which has already soared 327% in 2020.
SRNE revealed that it entered into a licensing agreement with Columbia University for the rights to a rapid, one-step diagnostic test that detects SARS-CoV-2 virus in as little as 30 minutes from a saliva sample. According to Dawson James analyst Jason Kolbert, part of what makes the product, COVI-TRACE, so appealing is that it is self-contained, meaning that all of the testing materials are in a single tube and require no specialized laboratory equipment, so it is easily deployable for point of care, on-site, or potentially at-home testing.
On top of this, its COVI-TRACK test could drive substantial upside. In order to conduct analytical validation, sample cohorts from healthy donors and COVID-19 patient samples were tested, with the assay showing specificity of over 97% and diagnostic sensitivity of more than 94%. “Upon issuance of an EUA, the COVI-TRACK test will be available for distribution to clinical testing sites nationwide. Sorrento has secured manufacturing capacity to support the production of up to five million test kits per month,” Kolbert mentioned.
If that wasn’t enough, SRNE inked a deal to acquire SmartPharm Therapeutics, providing it with access to gene-encoded therapeutics. Weighing in on the move, Kolbert stated, “The capability to develop non-viral DNA (and RNA), gene delivery platforms for COVID-19, and rare diseases, has broad potential for application in enhancing antibody-centric therapeutics, including against COVID-19. In other words, it provides the company with the ability to drive the body to produce (continuously) antibodies. Continuous antibodies may be a critical factor in defeating COVID.”
Representing yet another positive, SRNE has evaluated billions of antibodies and identified a small group that can block the S1 protein's interaction with human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the receptor used for viral entrance into human cells. The hope is that the cocktail will remain effective even if the virus mutates.
“Through the U.S.'s Project Warp Speed, it's possible we could see this cocktail move rapidly to commercialization. Sorrento plans to accelerate the development of multiple candidates for in vivo gene-encoded expression of Sorrento's antibodies, starting with Sorrento's previously announced STI-1499, or COVI-GUARD, which is currently moving through preclinical and manufacturing requirements with an IND submission targeted for August 2020,” Kolbert commented.
So far, in vitro results have demonstrated that STI-1499 can completely neutralize SARS-CoV-2 infection at low doses, and therefore, STI-1499 is Sorrento's lead candidate “for potential cost-effective passive protection against COVID-19.”
Kolbert also points out that if clinical trials are successful, a single dose of STI-1499dpi (DNA plasmid injection) could allow the patient's own muscle cells to produce the antibody for an extended period of time after a single injection, potentially providing prolonged protection against COVID-19.
In line with his optimistic take, Kolbert left his Buy recommendation and $24 price target unchanged. Should his thesis play out, a potential twelve-month gain of 66% could be in the cards. (To watch Kolbert’s track record, click here)
Looking at the consensus breakdown, it has been relatively quiet when it comes to other analyst activity. Only one other analyst has posted a recent review, but it was also bullish, so the consensus rating is a Moderate Buy. In addition, the $27 average price target is more aggressive than Kolbert’s and indicates upside potential of 87%. (See Sorrento Therapeutics stock analysis on TipRanks)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.