It’s been a wild ride for GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:GWPH). Founded in 1998, it took 20 years for the cannabis-centered pharma firm to achieve its first FDA approval. That was for Sativex back in 2018, a sublingual spray consisting of a mixture of different cannabinoids, used to treat spasticity from multiple sclerosis. Later that same year, it scored FDA approval for its now-flagship cannabinoid drug Epidiolex, a cannabidiol-based oral solution used to treat Dravet and Lennox-Gestaut Syndromes, two rare forms of epilepsy. Still, the stock kept dipping and bobbing throughout that period, as the company struggled to achieve profitability despite its regulatory successes.
Now the picture has changed again, as Irish pharma firm Jazz Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:JAZZ) has come swooping in, offering to buy the company for $7.2 billion in a mixture of cash and shares. The offer has pushed GW to a new all time high of $215 a share, where it has been trading since the offer was made on February 3. This move comes despite the fact that GW has yet to earn a profit, and has an accumulated deficit of $867 million to date. That has not stopped the stock from skyrocketing to record highs, putting smiles on the faces of all its investors over the years who were able to hold out until the monumental offer was made. It is by far the biggest the cannabis space has ever seen. The hope now is, with economies of scale available in Jazz, GW’s product line and technology will now have the backing it needs to achieve consistent profitability.
The increased chances of the legalization of cannabis on a Federal level by the Biden Administration is adding to the weight of that argument, as this would significantly lighten the regulatory burden on all cannabis companies in terms of banking costs and general regulatory compliance in the face of the technical illegality of GW’s entire product line. In fact, the probability of the eventual legalization of cannabis during the tenure of the current US administration is speculated to be a significant factor in Jazz making its offer precisely when it did, mere weeks after Biden’s inauguration.
This historic move by Jazz to acquire the world’s biggest and arguably most famous public cannabis company has spurred a wave of bullishness throughout the sector, particularly in the small cannabis-based pharmaceutical stocks. Here is a look at a few of the stocks being affected in the wake of the deal.
Enveric BioSciences (NASDAQ:ENVB)
Among those seeing a wave of speculative interest is Enveric BioSciences. This one specializes in combinations of cannabidiol [CBD], the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is the basis of GW’s Epidiolex, with chemotherapeutic agents. The idea is to mitigate the negative side effects of chemotherapy by combining it with CBD, while at the same time enhancing the anti-cancer effects of the chemotherapies themselves and enabling patients to lower their doses for outsized effects. The company has a library of patents on the use of CBD in these applications in this way, making it stand out and perhaps triggering current interest in the stock.
The company is still early on in its development pathway, with preclinical trials ongoing in glioblastoma brain cancer and radiation dermatitis. Despite the recent explosion of interest, the stock has only just reached its previous highs from last month, indicating that it may be early goings in its current rally. The stock is speculative as all small biotech stocks are, but given the current surge of interest in the cannabis space catalyzed by the Jazz deal, the current rally may have just begun.
Corbus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:CRBP)
Corbus Pharmaceuticals has been around since 2014 and recently had a major setback when a Phase III trial for its flagship drug candidate lenabasum for systemic sclerosis and cystic fibrosis failed to meet their primary endpoints back in September and October. Nonetheless, two trials are ongoing for the same drug in dermatomyositis and systemic lupus erythematosis. The dermatomyositis trial was recently shortened by to 28 weeks from an original 52 weeks due to changes in the competitive landscape of the disease. Basically, other drugs targeting the same indication and endpoint are reporting in at 28 weeks, enabling to Corbus to report results 24 weeks earlier than originally planned. Results should be in by next quarter, giving a potential fundamental catalyst to the shares above the current speculative fervor that is spurring shares higher at the moment.
SciSparc, previously Therapix, is another cannabis biotech garnering attention in the recent wave. SciSparc is actually on the cusp of being a commercial company, having just initiated commercial production of its CannAmide pills that combine cannabinoids with a compound known as PEA, which is known to have synergistic effects when combined with cannabinoid compounds like CBD. PEA is produced naturally in the body but is difficult to absorb when taken from external sources. SciSparc has discovered a way to increase that absorption, with the aim of increasing the effectiveness and potency of other cannabinoid-based treatments.
SciSparc is in the midst of clinical trials combining CannAmide with dronabinol, the generic form of THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The aim is to increase the effectiveness of THC in various indications, enabling a lower dose and higher effectiveness for patients to potentially avoid the psychoactive side effects of the compound.
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ZYNE)
Zynerba shares have skyrocketed since news of the Jazz/GW deal broke, but they are still nowhere near highs. Zynerba’s product Zygel has yet to attain FDA approval, but if and when it does, it could challenge GW’s Epidiolex in the marketplace as a similar product with fewer side effects, primarily on the liver. Zygel is a transdermal CBD gel, meaning it is absorbed through the skin. A pivotal trial for the drug on Fragile X syndrome is planned for later this year, and if it succeeds, should be enough to back the submission of a new drug application with the FDA. Zynerba is planning to trial Zygel in three other indications as well, including Autism Spectrum Disorder. Approval for Fragile X would increase the chances for approval in these other indications as well, giving potential competition to market leader GW in the CBD space.