Of all the controversial plays on Wall Street, penny stocks take the cake. The risk-tolerant flock to these names as the potential for share prices to grow from pocket change to more than a few dollars is too tempting to ignore.
That said, these tickers aren’t without their pitfalls. Some investors avoid them entirely, arguing that the bargain price tags are too good to be true. Rather, the fact that shares are trading at such low levels could reflect problems lying beneath the surface, whether it be poor fundamentals or overpowering headwinds. So, how are investors supposed to distinguish between the long-term winners and those set to come up short? One strategy is to follow the activity of the pros.
Enter Israel “Izzy” Englander, who is widely known for his impressive stock picking abilities. Englander expressed interest in the stock market since he was young, and in 1989, co-founded hedge fund Millennium Management with Ronald Shear. Using a broad range of strategies involving a variety of predominantly liquid asset classes, Englander was able to take the $35 million the fund was started with and turn it into $43.49 billion in assets as of June 1, 2020. With an estimated net worth of $6.6 billion in 2020, it’s no wonder Wall Street focus locks in on the guru when he makes a move.
Looking to Englander for inspiration, we ran three penny stocks the hedge fund manager snapped up recently through TipRanks’ database to get the analyst community’s take on them. It turns out that each has received Buy ratings from analysts and boasts huge upside potential.
Precigen, Inc. (PGEN)
Focused on advancing the next generation of gene and cell therapies, Precigen uses precision technology to target urgent and intractable diseases, with its primary therapeutic areas being immuno-oncology, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases. Given its $3.49 share price, some believe that now is the ideal time to get on board.
Among PGEN’s fans are Englander and Millennium. The fund recently pulled the trigger on the stock for the first time, buying up 997,181 shares. As for the value of this new position, it comes in at $3,390,000.
JMP analyst Jason Butler is also taking a bullish approach. The analyst wrote in a recent note to clients that key clinical data readouts are coming up in the second half of 2020. Looking at the trials for both PRGN-3005 in ovarian cancer and PRGN-3006 in AML and MDS, they are progressing right on schedule.
“Importantly, both programs maintain 100% manufacturing success rate (point-of-care, overnight manufacturing). We believe further confidence in the robustness of the manufacturing process can be inferred from FDA’s decision to now allow the lymphodepletion and non-lymphodepletion arms to enroll concurrently,” Butler commented.
Additionally, the company announced that the FDA accepted the Investigational New Drug application for its PRGN-2009 candidate, an immunotherapy for HPV+ cancer. Using PGEN’s AdenoVerse platform as well as a gorilla adenoviral vector, repeat dosing is possible, and the Phase 1/2 trial is set to kick off this calendar year. With preclinical models showing monotherapy activity with PRGN-2009 and enhanced activity with combinations that could target tumors non-responsive to checkpoint inhibitors, Butler is optimistic that the candidate will be effective.
If that wasn’t enough, interim results from ActoBiotics’ AG019 in Type 1 diabetes and top line Phase 1 results for INXN-4001 in heart failure are slated for release in 2H20. Combine additional cost reductions at its MBP Titan subsidiary, sufficient cash to fund the company well into 2021 and no impacts from COVID-19, and you get a thumbs up from Butler.
To this end, Butler rates PGEN an Outperform (i.e. Buy) along with a $13 price target. This target conveys his confidence in PGEN’s ability to soar 272% in the next year. (To watch Butler’s track record, click here)
Turning now to the rest of the Street, it has been relatively quiet when it comes to other analyst activity. Only one other rating was issued recently, but it was also bullish. With a $9 average price target, the upside potential lands at 158%. (See PGEN stock analysis on TipRanks)
Developing bacteriophage-based therapies, BiomX targets bacteria that affect the appearance of skin, as well as chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel diseases, primary sclerosing cholangitis and cancer. Currently going for $4.71 apiece, its share price could present a unique buying opportunity.
Englander didn’t miss out on the chance to get in on the action. Adding a new PHGE position to the fund in Q1, Millennium snapped up 150,961 shares, with the holding valued at $1,057,000.
Weighing in on BiomX's growth prospects for Cantor, analyst Kristen Kluska acknowledges that due to COVID-19, there are new timelines for the company's clinical trials. Initial BX002 Phase 1 data (IBD) is now expected in Q4 2020, with Phase 2 data for BX001 (acne) coming in Q2 2021.
BiomX recently provided more detail regarding the design of the IBD trials. The initial first in human PK Phase 1a trial will look at 24 patients over two cohorts (BX002 with and without proton pump inhibitors - PPI) and placebo, with the endpoints focusing on the detection of viable phage in stool and the effect of PPI. Going forward, Kluska believes this data readout could potentially drive upside for PHGE.
Looking at the Phase 1 results for BX001 in acne that were published in March, the candidate was able to generate a larger reduction in C. acnes for patients with high sebum baseline levels compared to the placebo. Kluska notes that BiomX has incorporated these findings into the Phase 2 trial, and should the therapy produce 10-20% more reductions in lesions than the placebo, it would be a major positive. She added, “Thus, we view this as a significant catalyst for BiomX shares, as results could trigger the global cosmetic company moving forward toward a commercialization plan.”
The good news doesn’t end there. “Additional work is being studied with CRC, and the next goal by 1Q21 is to see whether the company can synergistically use phage with a payload with checkpoint inhibitors in mouse models of cancer. In light of many recent pharmaceutical partnerships with microbiome companies, the team sees other areas where XMarker could be used in disease diagnosis or companion diagnostics, which might include IBD, liver disease, NASH, and skin indications,” Kluska stated.
With BiomX boasting two-plus years of cash on hand, the deal is sealed for Kluska. As a result, the analyst reiterated an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating and $19 price target. Should the target be met, a twelve-month gain of 303% could be in store. (To watch Kluska’s track record, click here)
BiomX has slipped under most analysts’ radar; the stock’s Moderate Buy consensus is based on just two recent ratings. The average price target stands tall at $8.13, which suggests room for almost 400% upside. (See BiomX stock analysis on TipRanks)
Agile Therapeutics (AGRX)
Last but not least we have Agile Therapeutics, which focuses on addressing the unmet health needs of women. With one already approved product, Twirla, that provides women with a contraceptive option that doesn’t require taking a daily pill or committing to a longer-lasting method, several members of the Street believe its $2.80 share price looks like a steal.
Standing squarely in the bull camp, Englander just upped the ante. Boosting its AGRX position by a whopping 1,204%, Millennium purchased an additional 1,281,855 shares. This move brought the total size of the holding to 1,388,336 shares, with the value landing at $2,582,000.
Covering the stock for Oppenheimer, 5-star analyst Leland Gershell points out that during the COVID-19 storm, AGRX hasn’t been sitting idly by. While the onset of the pandemic extended the pre-launch period for Twirla, with the actual launch expected in Q4 2020, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Extended pre-launch window of time appears to be to AGRX's benefit, allowing the company to curate sales professionals who bring skill sets well-adapted to both in-person communication as well as virtual engagement. Initial launch strategy to geographically align with areas most favorable to patient access,” Gershell explained. In addition, the company recently contracted for sales personnel and services with Syneos and inVentiv.
Twirla's pre-validation batch has already been completed, with commercial batch manufacturing set to kick off in the next few months, and thus, the company has been laying the groundwork for coverage and reimbursement. “While still early for managed care agreements to be executed, discussions are progressing... Despite patch category to be shared w/MYL's Xulane, we see Twirla's advantages (most importantly, low hormonal dose) as favorable to coverage prospects as well as prescriber/patient choice,” Gershell stated.
Speaking to its commercialization plan, Gershell is especially interested to see if AGRX will offer a patch replacement program. This would provide women with the ability to remain protected without the inconvenience of needing to obtain another prescription if a patch is lost, unlike the case with Xulane.
To sum it all up, Gershell said, “With an approved product that we project will achieve 2024E sales of ~$340 million, an enterprise value of just ~$210 million, and cash runway through 2021, we view AGRX as attractive.”
Based on all of the above, it’s no wonder Gershell reiterated his Outperform call. With an $8 price target, shares could climb 186% higher in the next twelve months. (To watch Gershell’s track record, click here)
All in all, other analysts echo Gershell’s sentiment. 4 Buys and no Holds or Sells add up to a Strong Buy consensus rating. Given the $7.50 average price target, the upside potential comes in at 168%. (See Agile stock analysis on TipRanks)
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