Merrill Lynch Sees 4 Top Biotechs With Key Catalysts in 2018

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Biotechnology companies offer big risk, but big reward as well. These are seen as some of the more speculative companies in the market because a single clinical trial could either be a huge sunk cost or the next blockbuster drug.

The biotechs have seen a tumultuous 2018, but they are currently outperforming the broad markets, with the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (NASDAQ: IBB) up over 10% year to date. At this rate, 2018 could prove to be a strong year for the industry.

With 2018 coming to a close in just a few months, Merrill Lynch is taking a close look at the biotech industry and what key catalysts to expect before 2019. While the following four biotechs are nothing new in Merrill Lynch’s coverage universe, they now are the top industry picks from the firm.

Clovis Oncology

Clovis Oncology Inc. (NASDAQ: CLVS) has a Buy rating from Merrill Lynch with an $84 price objective. This biotech is expected to release interim results from its Phase 2 TRITON-2 study of Rubraca in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) at the European Society for Medical Oncology meeting in mid-October. Look for the abstract on October 19.

Merrill Lynch had this to say about what it expects to see in these results:

At the interim read, we expect to see results from more than 80 points with at least 16 weeks of follow-up. We also expect to see RECIST response from approximately 25 evaluable points. Management believes that >20-25% in RECIST response would be meaningful with “realistic chance of an approval” and 30% response rate would be great. The prostate indication currently attributes $24/sh in our discounted cash flow (DCF) based model (which we assumed 50% likelihood of success). We estimate risk-adj. $27 million at launch in 2020 reaching $795 million (risk-adj.) peak sales by 2028. We note that positive TRITON-2 data could provide significant upside potential, as Clovis plans to file sNDA to expand Rubraca into BRCA+ (15% of mCRPC) mCRPC by year end 2019 pending positive full TRITON2 data.

Shares of Clovis were last seen trading at $35.48, with a consensus analyst price target of $69.17 and a 52-week trading range of $33.85 to $86.26.

Neurocrine Biosciences

Neurocrine Biosciences Inc. (NASDAQ: NBIX) has a Buy rating and a $128 price objective from Merrill Lynch. This company continues to see strong growth in Ingrezza in tardive dyskinesia (TD), with second-quarter sales of $97 million, up 36% quarter over quarter. The brokerage firm estimates Ingrezza sales of $408 million in 2018, ramping up to peak sales of $1.9 billion in 2029. Orilissa (partnered with AbbVie) received U.S. approval in treating endometriosis (EN) and launched last month. Merrill Lynch models EN with $66 million sales in 2018 and peak sales of $2 billion by 2029 ($395 million royalties).

Merrill Lynch detailed what to expect later this year:

On key upcoming catalysts, we expect results from the Phase 2b study of NBI-74788 in congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) in 2H18, and topline results from Phase 2 T-FORCE GOLD (n=120 peds pts) in Tourette syndrome (TS) by year end 2018. Neurocrine is expected to discuss with the agency for a potential sNDA in TS in 1H19 pending TFORCE GOLD readout. We note that TS points population is as big as TD, as it currently contributes $9/sh in our model with $360 million risk-adj. peak sales in 2030. We view TS indication with significant upside potential for shares given high under-met need and Ingrezza’s favorable dosing and tolerability profile.

Neurocrine Bio shares were trading at $120.39 on Tuesday. The consensus price target is $133.09, and the 52-week range is $55.95 to $126.82.