Healthcare Business

Is NextCure the Next Big Cancer Biotech Every Investor Missed?

The initial public offering class of 2018 and 2019 has been very mixed. There have been some great winners, but there also have been some very well-known unicorns that have flopped. Sometimes it is the under-the-radar companies that offer the best upside stories, and sometimes unlucky timing or initial pricing can keep those great stories from ever being read about.

NextCure Inc. (NASDAQ: NXTC) appears to be one of those companies that has flown under the radar of the investing community since its initial public offering in 2019. The biotech outfit’s lead product candidate, NC318, is already in trials for the treatment of advanced or metastatic solid tumors. And its IPO timing in the first half of May was at a time when the “sell in May and go away” craze was in full swing.

Despite poor market sentiment in May, NextCure’s stock rose about 40% on its debut, with a $19.90 close (and $22.75 high) after pricing its 5 million shares at just $15 apiece. By the first week of June, the stock was back close to $15, and it wasn’t even moving until June 28 and July 1, when the volume spiked higher and the shares rose to $17.65 from $14.98.

Now, the shares are above $42. What is amazing, even on a day with a big analyst upgrade and with an 8% gain, is that NextCure has seen only four trading days in the past month in which the total volume was above 100,000 shares. That means this stock has tripled, and it hasn’t done it with any major investor interest.

This company was sitting on about $193 million in cash at the end of the second quarter, after its May 9 IPO raised about $86 million in gross proceeds. The company also has a collaboration agreement with Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY). The company is among the many that want to use a patient’s own immune system to target cancers and other diseases. It is developing therapeutics after having identified several positive and negative immune regulators of myeloid cells and T cells to restore antitumor activity with its own FIND-IO technology.

NextCure’s latest news release indicated that it is on track to submit an investigational new drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its second product candidate (NC410) in the first quarter of 2020. The company noted recently that its NC410 is a novel immunomedicine that is seeking to block immune suppression mediated by an immune modulator called leukocyte‑associated immunoglobulin‑like receptor 1.

The driver on Thursday was that Piper Jaffray reiterated its Overweight rating and vaulted the target price to $54 from $26. Sure, the price target needed to be refreshed after it was surpassed and then some. Still, that’s a 100% boost to the target that was there earlier this summer.

According to the target hike at Piper Jaffray, the enthusiasm comes after continued enrollment in a dose-escalation study of NC318 in advanced solid tumors and the higher target is on increasing values ahead of a data release, which should come out during the fourth quarter.

Morgan Stanley had reiterated its Overweight rating in mid-August, but that target of $25 was raised to just $33.

One additional driver for investors may be the upcoming September 10 presentation at the Morgan Stanley 17th Annual Global Healthcare Conference in New York City.

NextCure was traded up almost 10% to $43.35 on Thursday, in a post-IPO range of $13.86 to $43.40. It’s just not common to see a stock rise this much, with a market cap that is nearing $1 billion and on such low trading volume.

The short interest has remained muted as it is a new stock, but as of mid-August the number of shares short had risen to over 236,000, when the shares were closer to $26.