Inside Wall Street: A drug stock with huge potential
Young biotech Pharmacyclics is developing a treatment for lymphoma and myeloma.
It's not too often that followers of the biotech industry get a big lift, especially when the stock market is behaving as badly as it has in recent weeks. But investors did get a positive jolt in mid-May, when the influential American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released data from abstracts on new drugs filed by companies that attended last year's ASCO annual conference.
One that caught a lot of attention was the abstract from Pharmacyclics (PCYC), which is developing a treatment for B-cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
"We believe the data for its ibrutinib, or PCI-32765, is extremely promising, and the product appears to be well on its way to becoming a blockbuster cancer drug," says John McCamant, editor of the Medical Technology Stock Letter in Berkeley, Calif. He thinks the data is as compelling for investors as for cancer patients.
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is convinced, too. In December 2011 it signed a collaboration agreement with Pharmacyclics, which provided for an upfront payment of $150 million, plus future milestone payments of up to $825 million, for exclusive rights to the drug outside the U.S. markets in oncology and other indications. The agreement also requires Johnson & Johnson to finance 60% of all development costs, with Pharmacyclics covering 40%.
McCamant says the partnership gives PCYC an established and experienced ally for the eventual commercialization, marketing and launch of the drug.
"In our 25 years of analyzing drug candidates, we have never seen something so simple and satisfying -- a once-a-day, highly effective and very safe pill, with never-before-seen results in multi-billion dollar markets," McCamant says. He points out that the "promise of the drug is so strong" that he has raised his price target price to $45 a share. His previous target was $30, when the stock was trading at only $18 in early January 2012. The stock is currently trading at $30.30, not far from its 52-week high of $33.24, reached on May 24, 2012.
"We are usually reluctant to chase stocks into strength," says McCamant, but the ASCO abstracts reveal an even wider therapeutic window and market potential for the drug. And PCYC has demonstrated, he adds, that it has "a very sound management team and owns potentially the best cancer drug."
Pharmacyclics made headlines at the ASCO conference in June 2011, recalls McCamant, when it came out with "the most exciting data" presented there. The data was about its BTK (Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase) for the treatment of B-cell malignancies. McCamant says BTK is one of the rare, sought-after drug targets that is validated by its role in a genetic disease, an X-chromosome-linked hereditary condition that interferes with a person's ability to form immunoglobulins and, therefore, the ability fight off infections.
PCYC is scheduled to conduct a phase 3 clinical trial on its chief drug later this year. The company, so far, has presented highly positive interim phase 2 clinical trial results, notes McCamant. The company is expected to deliver positive news throughout the rest of the year, as the drug is in multiple clinical trials for various medical indications.
So McCamant is convinced the stock is a compelling "buy" despite its persistent climb. "We urge our subscribers to purchase PCYC shares immediately as any pullback in its price -- while the market continues to drop -- provides an excellent entry point, because we expect the price to accelerate once the market stabilizes," says McCamant.
Gene Marcial wrote the column "Inside Wall Street" for Business Week for 28 years and now writes for MSN Money’s Top Stocks. He also wrote the book "Seven Commandments of Stock Investing," published by FT Press.
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