Gilead Sciences’ Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Shows Promise, Says Cowen

After falling for three straight years on declining sales of hepatitis C drugs, Gilead Sciences’ (GILD) revenues finally seemed to bottom last year, and even resumed growing again. Now there’s hope that the global coronavirus pandemic could give Gilead an additional financial shot in the arm in 2020 and beyond.

In a note surveying the “medical view from the front lines” on COVID-19 developments, Cowen analyst Steve Scala sketched out what one hopes will turn out to be the worst case scenario for coronavirus in the U.S.: Peak infections of 100,000 patients — a bit more than China suffered during its peak — with the worst of the crisis arriving “sometime in the next month,” and subsiding thereafter.

If that sounds bad, well, it is. But out of a population of 327 million, the situation Scala describes is one in which just 0.03% of the U.S. population contracts the virus, and the vast, vast majority of those infected survive the exposure. Helping to make this happy scenario happen would be Gilead Sciences.

As Scala explains, Gilead has a drug called “remdesivir” that is a “nucleotide analogue initially developed as a treatment for the Ebola and Marburg viruses” — but potentially applicable as a COVID-19 treatment as well.

Remdesivir, says Scala, is already believed to be effective against the MERS and SARS coronoaviruses, “and more recently it was demonstrated to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 in preclinical experiments” as well. Indeed, in the opinion of some experts, the drug could be “the strongest for any agent currently in clinical testing” for use against the novel coronavirus. Not a vaccine, and not an outright cure, remdesivir could nonetheless “be useful in lessening the severity of the disease.”

Specifically, they are hoping that treatment with remdesivir could shorten the Time To Clinical Recovery (TTCR) of an infected patient by at least one day, and ideally two or more. The primary benefit of such an acceleration of TTCR would be that patients would get in and out of hospital faster, freeing up bed space for new patients, and thus “lessen[ing] the burden on hospitals.”

TTCR would be calculated by seeing if the drug helps accelerate the speed at which a patient’s fever and respiration rate are restored to normal, with normal oxygen saturation and elimination of coughing. Regulators would also be looking, though, at remdesivir’s ability to lower mortality rates — the “gold standard” for any treatment, as the analyst points out, as well as any other palliative effects (improvements in a patient’s breathing, minimizing of coughing, and other effects).

How soon might remdesivir be brought to market? That’s hard to say. Scala predicts that “the first two Phase III trials of remdesivir,” both of which are being conducted in China, could be complete as early as April 2020. Two other international trials are also starting up, and results from those are expected in May. Combined, the analyst thinks there might be sufficient patients enrolled in these four studies to give the FDA the data it would need to then approve the drug for use in treating patients in the U.S.

Additionally, there’s a Phase II trial in the works, but the results from that one can’t be expected before 2023. By that point, one hopes, its results will be moot — and the coronavirus crisis well and truly behind us.

What do other analysts say about the virus fighter? TipRanks analytics shows out of 18 analysts, 10 analysts are bullish on Gilead stock, 7 are sidelined and only 1 is bearish. The consensus price target of $77.80 shows a modest upside of nearly 4%. (See Gilead stock analysis on TipRanks)

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