Viking Therapeutics may offer investors a cheap entry to the weight-loss drug craze



Viking Therapeutics Inc.’s stock soared 17% to a record high on Thursday, after the company said it expects data from early and mid-stage trials of its weight-loss drug as soon as the first quarter, moving the timeline up from the first half.

The news was welcomed by analysts who said the rest of the quarter could propel the stock to further highs if the data are positive.

San Diego-based Viking
VKTX,
+17.08%
is developing a GLP-1 receptor agonist in both injectable and oral form as a treatment for obesity and diabetes. The new class of drugs have proved highly popular and boosted the stocks of the two companies leading the sector, Eli Lilly & Co.
LLY,
+1.57%
and Denmark’s Novo Nordisk
NVO,
-0.18%

NOVO.B,
-1.02%.

Viking trades at just $28 a share, compared with Eli Lilly’s current price of $739 and Novo’s American depositary receipt which is trading at $118.

The company’s injectable drug VKTX2735 and oral treatment VK2735 use the same mechanism as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Ozempic and Lilly’s Mounjaro, mimicking the effects of GLP-1, a gut hormone that can help control blood-sugar levels and reduce appetite. GLP stands for glucagon-like peptide.

Viking made the announcement as it posted quarterly earnings late Wednesday.

Maxim Group analysts reiterated a buy rating on the stock and raised the price target to $50 from $35, or 79% above its current price.

Positive data “may significantly benefit Viking’s valuation and potential attractiveness to strategic buyers,” analysts Naz Rahman and Jason McCarthy wrote in a note to clients.

Truist analysts said Viking remains one of their five favorite stocks for 2024 as they reiterated a buy rating and $32 price target.

Management on the earnings call said that a roughly 8% placebo-adjusted weight loss would be good enough to proceed to a Phase 3 trial.

“We agree with this assessment given tirzepatide showed placebo-adjusted weight loss of around ~6.5% at week 12,” said analysts led by Joon Lee, using the clinical name for Mounjaro.

“Given SQ (subcutaneous) VK2735 already showed 6% placebo-adjusted weight loss at Week 4, we think there’s high probability that SQ VK2735 can clear the 8% bogey, especially with 50% higher dosing in the Phase 2 trial called Venture.”

Viking is also developing a treatment for NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. NASH is a more severe version of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, a range of conditions that occurs when excess fat builds up in liver cells.

NASH is the main reason that patients require liver transplants and there are high hopes for the therapies currently in development.

 For more, see: Inside the NASH drug boom: New drugs for a ‘silent’ liver disease that affects millions near FDA approval

The Maxim analysts said positive recent data from Eli Lilly on how Mounjaro treats NASH de-risks the GLP-1 drug class and makes Viking’s assets more attractive to potential acquirers for treating metabolic diseases.

“Going into these multiple catalysts, net-net we believe VKTX shares have further upside from these levels considering the totality of data and market potentials,” said the note.

Viking’s stock has gained 57% in the year to date, while the S&P 500
SPX
has gained 4.7%.

From the archive: The dark side of the weight-loss-drug craze: eating disorders, medication shortages, dangerous knockoffs



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