Allergan plc Ordinary Shares (NYSE:AGN) just announced its buyout of junior biotech , and market response has been huge. The former is paying six times valuation multiple for the latter, and could end up paying a lot more if Tobira’s lead assets make it to commercialization. The primary asset that Allergan is gaining exposure to is called cenicriviroc, a drug targeting a condition called on-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), also known as fatty liver disease. Many reading probably hadn’t heard of the condition before the news hit press, but it’s a pretty widespread problem, estimated to affect around 3% of US individuals and up to 25% of the obese population. In support of its buyout thesis, Allergan stated that “NASH is set to become one of the next epidemic-level chronic diseases we face as a society.”
All this attention, and the seemingly exorbitant price tag, has drawn a lot of speculative volume towards the space. Pre-buyout holders of Tobira already benefited from this volume, but that ship has now sailed. For a number of others, however, there’s still an opportunity to get in ahead of the wider market.
Here are two companies that are already benefiting from interest in NASH, and that look set to gain further as this interest intensifies.
First up, Galmed Pharmaceuticals Ltd (NASDAQ:GLMD).
Galmed is an Israel based biotech with a NASH focus. The company gained nearly 20% on the Allergan news, with daily volume post-announcement reaching a 22 X multiple of its trailing three months’ average. Galmed’s lead candidate, Aramchol, is currently under investigation in a NASH indication, by way of a phase IIb, placebo controlled study in patients that are who are overweight or obese, and who are pre-diabetic or type-II-diabetic. The investigation is also looking at a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a sort of precursor to NASH. To put this another way, NASH is a severe form (and late stage) type of NAFLD.
The trial is a long run type event, with the scheduled primary completion not slated until March 2018, and study completion planned a few months later, in June of the same year. However, the late stage of the trial opens up the potential for both an interim release, and leaves plenty of scope for a big name to step in and pick up an exposure to Galmed’s lead asset.
When data does hit (or if we get some degree of insight by way of an interim update), we are judging the drug’s chances of success (and by proxy, attractiveness to a potential suitor) against its primary on the trial, the percentage change in liver triglycerides concentration between the two active dosing arms and a placebo arm. Of course, we’re looking for a higher degree of reduction in the two formers, versus the latter.
Moving on, let’s look at Galectin Therapeutics Inc (NASDAQ:GALT). This one also gained on the back of the Allergan announcement, and currently trades for a market capitalization of a little over $90 million – there’s still plenty of run room to the upside, however, if the company’s lead NASH candidate can prove its worth in its ongoing study.
The candidate in question, GR-MD-02, is currently in a phase II trial investigating the efficacy and the tolerability of the drug in NASH patients, while also under investigation for a host of other indications (oncologic, psoriatic). The drug is targeting the fibrosis associated with NASH, which is the root cause of the cirrhosis that sufferers experience prior to liver failure, and this differentiates it from Galmed somewhat in the sense that the drug is targeting later stage NASH patients, compared to the primary early stage target of Aramchol.
The trial is set to complete this month, having run for the last twelve, and this makes Galectin an especially interesting proposition right now. The near term catalyst of a topline readout will undoubtedly draw increased speculative volume towards the company (above and beyond that which was drawn by the Allergan news) and this could serve to catalyze an upside revaluation before the quarter draws to a close. If efficacy comes out on point, the asset would become very attractive to a potential big name suitor, and in turn, the company would become very attractive to the speculative investor.
Definitely one to watch over the next week or so.