Is Human Genome Worth Biting?

Brittney Barrett |

Shares of Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) have ascended 14 percent today in morning trading in advance of an investor presentation at the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference scheduled for the late morning. This sort of movement is not uncommon with biotech stocks, which tend to tack on value before an announcement before quickly shedding it afterwards. So is that the case with Human Genome Sciences?

It doesn't look as though that’s the case. Human Genome Resources has already passed a critical point in its growth as a company, approval by the FDA. Getting drugs cleared for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration has become an increasingly dicey business. The proportion of drugs being approved becomes less and less as standards rise. Earlier this year, Human Genome Sciences crossed that hurdle when their lupus drug Benlysta received approval rom the organization.

The approval can mean only good things for the company, which according to their last quarterly report lost $80.7 million, or 42 cents a share, for the three months ending in June. Losses for Human Genome have been significant and have continued to rise through the development process. During the same quarter the previous year, HGSI suffered through a net loss of $56.9 million, or 30 cents a share, in the prior-year quarter. Recent announcements may put an end to that trajectory though.

With the drug finally preparing for release, the company’s management believes losses can be reversed and Human Genome will have the potential to begin profiting from Benlysta.  The US launch of Benlysta is coming along quickly while marketing approval for Europe and Canada came through earlier in the month.

With these steps taken care of the question remains of how Benlysta will perform. If the size of the market is any indication, Human Genome has the potential to unlock a $3 billion market. As a complicated and chronic autoimmune disease, Lupus sufferers, of which there are an estimated 5 million, need continued pharmaceutical treatment throughout their lives.

Up until this point, the ongoing use of the existing drugs had negative long-term side effects including obesity, high blood pressure and potential diabetes. The notion of quieting the symptoms of one ailment only to create another is naturally unattractive to sufferers. The introduction of Benlysta is groundbreaking in that is the first new drug to treat lupus in more than 50 years and does not have the same sort of side effects as existing medications.

Additionally, Benlysta seems to have a head start on other pharmaceutical companies attempting to release their own incarnations of a Lupus treatment. The difficulty of creating a successful drug, exhibited by the lack of options for half-of-a-century and the increasingly rigorous FDA approval process, will likely give Benlysta time as the premier product on the market for Lupus.

In addition to the singular nature of Human Genome's key offering, the company remains, even after the recent surge, at only half it's 52-week high. The current level is likely to push higher as the numbers come in from early domestic and overseas sales in the coming months. Doctors have had a lukewarm reception to Benlysta thus far, which chipped away at the price of the stock, but the fact remains that as the newest and safest drug in a market of few options, Benlysta still holds considerable appeal to Lupus sufferers and their physicians.

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