U.S. Markets closed

Three Companies That Want to Cure Pancreatic Cancer

Lee Jackson

Within 20 years cancer is expected to be the number one killer of people in the United States. While many cancers are survivable with chemotherapy and radiation, one that is almost always terminal is pancreatic cancer. Actors Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon were well-known victims of the disease. A new research report from Cowen cautions that progress on the disease is slow, but steady, and nobody will have a miracle cure tomorrow. Three companies though, are working hard to find a cure, and their drugs have been favorably viewed by consultants.

Here are the three biotech names striving to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.

Celgene Corp. (CELG) is probably the most prominent name among the companies looking for a cure. For investors, it also may represent the best idea from a risk-tolerance standpoint, as it has a strong product lineup and a stellar pipeline. Cowen reports that physicians are very positive on Abraxane in combination with gemcitabine as new standard of care in first line patient treatment. They are also confident adding Abraxane improves outcomes. With very solid reimbursement levels for patients, most physicians have not considered an alternative, which would be generic paclitaxel. The Cowen team thinks that current use is about 35% of first line treatments, and they believe in three to five years that number could rise to 60% share. The Cowen price target for this biotech powerhouse rated Outperform is $178. The Thomson/First Call estimate is pegged at $191.67. Celgene closed Wednesday at $148.14 per share.

Incyte Corp. (INCY) is another top biotech name working hard to find a cure. Physicians think that Ruxolitinib biology made sense and it could both slow cancer progression and perhaps limit the systemic inflammation caused by the cancer, which is the leading cause of death in some patients. In two separate Phase 3 trials, the company is using a lower C-reactive protein cut off than was used in the Phase 2 trials, which could make the drug applicable to more than 50% of patients if successful. They do not think the inclusion criteria would reduce the chance of success. Though it is rated Outperform, Cowen did not have a price target for the stock. The consensus target is $71.23. Incyte closed Wednesday at $47.01.

Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc. (MACK) is a consideration for aggressive investors looking for a smaller cap name to play this trade. Its top drug is MM-398, which has been shown to treat pancreatic cancer in Phase 3 trials.  Fully one-quarter of patients using the drug have survived, which is a high percentage when you consider that late-stage pancreatic cancer is almost always quickly lethal. Physicians have stated they plan to use 398 a fair amount and thought that a drug that had succeeded in real randomized trials could prove very successful overall. With an FDA-approved label and promotional support, the company should capture a meaningful portion of the market for second line treatment. This gives the Cowen team confidence in $300 million in peak sales, which they say is not currently reflected in Merrimack's $700 million market cap valuation. Again, though Outperform rated, Cowen does not have a price objective. The consensus target is $13.80. Shares ended Wednesday at $6.86.

As the Cowen report suggests, none of these is a cure-all, and a total cure for the disease could be years in the future. With that in mind, these are three separate ways to play the biotech landscape for companies searching to solve this deadly disease. Investors have a risk-adjusted choice on which way to go. Either way, this is only suitable for very aggressive accounts with a high risk tolerance.

Related Articles