The Covid crash continues

Pfizer keeps declining, but it is not the only pandemic player to suffer.

Covid made Moderna and Biontech household names and propelled Pfizer to the top spot in the big pharma league. But with the pandemic a distant memory the good times are over for these players, Evaluate Vantage’s quarterly analysis of the stock markets has found. In the coming months and years these groups’ pipelines look set to come into sharper focus.

Winners were rarer, but some companies are still being rewarded for unexpected clinical and regulatory success – just ask the likes of Apellis, Reata and Bridgebio. Sanofi’s shares were also bolstered by a surprise win with Dupixent in COPD; that group’s stock is now almost back to year-ago levels, before the threat of Zantac litigation appeared. This will be a relief to its under-fire boss, Paul Hudson.

This analysis was constructed from the around 500 listed, global biopharma companies covered by Evaluate Pharma that were worth at least $250m at the start of 2023. These stocks will be tracked by Evaluate Vantage over the year – an analysis of the performance of four cohorts, grouped by market cap, was published yesterday (Biopharma stocks go back to bleak, April 5, 2023).

Big pharma is not looking like much of a safe haven, with all but two of these groups – Sanofi and Astrazeneca – falling. In addition to Pfizer, big losers included Roche, which is facing questions about its pipeline following recent failures, and Johnson & Johnson, whose baby powder controversy continues. Yesterday shares climbed after J&J, which is in the midst of separating its consumer business, proposed a $9bn settlement.

Biopharma's biggest stock market losers in Q1 2023
Company Q1 share price chg  Q1 market cap chg ($bn)  Market cap at 31 Mar 2023 ($bn)
Big pharma
Pfizer -21% -60.4 227.2
Johnson & Johnson -13% -58.2 403.7
-28.5 228.0
Large cap ($20bn+ market cap)
Biontech -19% -6.8 29.6
Alnylam -17% -4.9 24.3
Mid cap ($5-20bn market cap)
Halozyme Therapeutics -33% -2.5
United Therapeutics
-2.6 10.1
Neurocrine Biosciences -19% -2.1 9.4
Small cap ($250m-5bn market cap)
Oramed Pharmaceuticals -82% -0.4 0.1
Veru -75% -0.3 0.1
Altimmune -73% -0.6 0.2
Source: Evaluate Pharma. Companies are assigned these groups based on year-end 2022 market caps, and remain in the same group for the rest of the year.

Investors are jittery about Alnylam’s chances in amyloidosis cardiomyopathy, while Halozyme and Neurocrine are facing questions about the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act. United Therapeutics, meanwhile, dropped after strong results from Merck & Co’s sotatercept, a rival to United's pulmonary arterial hypertension projects.

Oramed and Altimmune were hit by old-fashioned clinical failures, while Veru got an FDA knockback for its Covid contender sabizabulin.  

Activist agitation

Among the winners, investors hope that the incoming Bayer chief executive, Bill Anderson, could be planning to separate its healthcare and agricultural businesses. He said this week that he was keeping an “open mind” about a potential break-up.

Shareholders are also agitating for change at Exelixis, where the fund Farallon Capital has been building a stake, a fact that explains that group’s share price rise in the wake of a recent clinical failure.

More traditional reasons were behind other rises. Apellis and Reata got surprising approvals for the geographic atrophy drug Syfovre and Friedreich’s ataxia therapy Skyclarys respectively, while Bridgebio rocketed on promising achrondroplasia data in 10 patients. And Aurinia, once mooted as a takeover target, is seeing sales of its lupus drug Lupkynis pick up after initially disappointing.  

Biopharma's biggest stock market winners in Q1 2023
Company Q1 share price chg  Q1 market cap chg ($bn)  Market cap at 31 Mar 2023 ($bn)
Big pharma
Sanofi 12% 14.2 135.9
Astrazeneca 1% 2.6 212.8
Large cap ($20bn+ market cap)
Bayer 18% 9.1 60.6
Novo Nordisk 17% 53.5 358.0
Mid cap ($5-20bn market cap)
Apellis Pharmaceuticals 28% 1.6 7.4
Exelixis 20% 1.0 6.2
Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holding 15% 2.2 9.9
Small cap ($250m-5bn market cap)
Aurinia Pharmaceuticals
Reata Pharmaceuticals 137% 1.7 2.9
Bridgebio Pharma 130% 1.5 2.7
Source: Evaluate Pharma. Companies are assigned these groups based on year-end 2022 market caps, and remain in the same group for the rest of the year.

Note: Evaluate Vantage’s universe is constructed from pure-play drug developers listed globally, with the majority sited in the US, Europe or Japan. Chinese developers must have a dual ex-China listing for inclusion. The big pharma cohort consists of 11 companies: Pfizer, J&J, Merck & Co, Lilly, Abbvie, Roche, Astrazeneca, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sanofi, GSK.

April 11 2023 - Universe corrected to 500 companies.

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