The biotech sector has started the year with a bang. The industry benchmark, iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF (IBB), is up ~11% so far in January — far better than the S&P 500’s 3% return.
Covering the sector for Wells Fargo, 5-star analyst Jim Birchenough is upbeat about what he sees.
“Overall, we see roughly 20% to 30% additional upside for the sector by historical metrics and would argue that accelerating pace of innovation and greater pipeline de-risking should ultimately support higher returns on investment,” Birchenough noted.
An environment like that will be manna from heaven for any investor interested in pharmaceutical stocks; an improved political climate will just add some icing to this cake.
“While a split House and Senate supporting continued legislative inertia would have been best received, in terms of maintaining a positive status quo for biotechnology growth, we believe that value proposition for emerging biotechnology therapeutics should win-out under any administration and House/Senate mix,” Birchenough added.
With this in mind, we wanted to check out some of Wells Fargo’s recent picks in the biotech space to see if the investment firm could steer us towards any game-changers. After running the tickers through TipRanks’ database, we found out that two recently scored Buy ratings from the rest of the Street, enough to earn a “Strong Buy” consensus rating.
Karuna Therapeutics (KRTX)
We will start with Karuna Therapeutics, a specialty pharma company whose focus is mental health. Specifically, Karuna works on the development of new drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia and dementia-related psychoses (DRP). With a potential patient base exceeding 2.7 million people, this is a large market. And the state of current treatment options is widely considered less than satisfactory. Medication side effects are severe, while therapeutic effects are less than desired. This leaves an opening for a company that can put a new, more effective, treatment on the market.
Karuna is currently enrolling the pivotal Phase 3 EMERGENT-2 Study of its leading drug candidate, KarXT, for the treatment of acute psychosis in adults with schizophrenia. KarXT has showed a differentiated safety profile and efficacy in Phase 2 data. Furthermore, Phase 1b data in healthy elderly volunteers for DRP remain on track for 2Q21.
This solid pipeline, with a new drug in multiple studies to treat several aspects of a serious disorder, has piqued Wells Fargo’s interest.
Covering KRTX for the firm, analyst Jacob Hughes writes, “Karuna Therapeutics is our top idea in 2021. While KRTX shares have had an impressive run… we see a very attractive setup for the stock over the next couple years and several important catalysts in 2021 to drive the shares higher… We think the pipeline has been de-risked and we like the risk/reward at these levels as the value of KarXT is proved out.”
To this end, Hughes rates the stock an Overweight (i.e. Buy), and his $163 price target implies an upside of ~59% for the coming year.
It’s not often that the analysts all agree on a stock, so when it does happen, take note. KRTX’s Strong Buy consensus rating is based on a unanimous 6 Buys. The stock’s $138.80 average price target suggests a 35% upside from the current share price of $102.80.
Zymeworks, Inc. (ZYME)
Vancouver-based Zymeworks is a clinical stage biotech involved in researching new drugs for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory diseases. The company focuses on biotherapeutics, drugs precisely engineered for their target diseases.
The company’s lead candidate, zanidatamab, has indications for biliary tract cancer, breast cancer, and gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma. The drug is in Phase 1/2 testing for these cancers. Zymeworks’ second clinical candidate, ZW49, like zanidatamab, is an HER2 bispecific antibody in early stage study as a solid tumor treatment. Initial data will be presented at an investor event on January 27.
Based on Zymeworks’ recent study results, Wells Fargo’s Jim Birchenough writes, “[We] expect zanidatamab to differentiate from current HER2 standards by virtue of depth of response in both refractory and frontline patients and to attract a prominent partner to pursue neoadjuvant and adjuvant breast cancer studies, and for ZW49 go-forward dose to demonstrate consistent responses to support further development, with upside potential from additional dose escalation.”
In line with his bullish stance, Birchenough rates ZYME an Overweight (i.e. Buy) and his price target, at $71, implies a ~47% growth ahead.
Turning now to the rest of the Street, it appears that other analysts are generally on the same page. With 4 Buys and 1 Hold assigned in the last three months, the consensus rating comes in as a Strong Buy. In addition, the $60.82 average price target implies ~26% upside from current levels.