Shares in biopharmaceutical company Intercept Pharmaceuticals (ICPT) spiked over 70 percent Friday before pulling pack to gains of around 60 percent, one day after shares soared more than 280 percent. Thursday brought news that the company’s lead drug candidate obeticholic acid (OCA) had proven so effective in treating patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (better known as fatty liver disease) that Intercept’s FLINT trial was halted early because it had already met its primary efficacy endpoint.
Friday’s new spike appears to have been driven by a raft of new analysts upgrades, many of which involved increasing price targets by more than $200 a share. This new surge in buying saw volume well over ten times the previous daily average and exceeding 25 percent of the stock’s total float.
All told, Intercept is up over 550 percent in the last two days alone, boosting the 45-person company’s market cap by about $7.5 billion in 48 hours.
Analysts Show the Love
Among those analysts who made dramatic increase in their price targets for Intercept were Citigroup, which went from $60 to $400, Oppenheimer, which went from $94 to $360, and Needham, who went from $55 to $320.
Merrill Lynch, though, took the cake, boosting their target from $81 to $872.
Driving this newfound optimism for Intercept’s future is the size of the market involved. Fatty liver disease is an increasingly common problem that currently lacks a strong treatment, so the first firms to present a commercially available drug stand to profit considerably.
Citigroup’s Jonathan Eckard and Yaron Werber explained their massive upgrade:
“It is estimated ~10-15 percent of the US population has some level of early stages of NASH (inflammation and fibrosis of the liver) and ~6 million (in the US alone) of these have a more advanced form of NASH preceding liver cirrhosis. NASH is becoming recognized as a leading cause of liver transplants in the western world. There are no approved drugs for treatment, and OCA is the first agent to show a benefit here and is now positioned to establish itself as the standard of care. Also liver fibrosis has long been a target for large pharma/biotech and the scarcity of other drugs makes [Intercept Pharmaceuticals] an attractive acquisition target…
“We are buyers of [Intercept Pharmaceuticals], and see value left on the table despite yesterday’s ~300 percent gain on positive NASH…data for lead agent obeticholic acid (OCA). In our view [Intercept Pharmaceuticals'] ~$5.4 billion market cap doesn’t reflect the multi-billion dollar NASH opportunity. A “back of the envelope” valuation applying a common biotech of 4x sales multiple projects <$1.5 billion in OCA sales. We believe this meaningfully underestimates the drug’s potential that we expect could top >$5 billion/yr.”
GALT, CNAT Lifted With Rising Tide
The huge two-day run for Intercept has also boosted the fortunes for other companies working on similar treatments for liver disease.