Harriet Lefton

About the Author Harriet Lefton

Harriet originates from the UK where she worked as a journalist specializing in the metal markets. She graduated from the University of Cambridge before becoming a qualified UK lawyer.

Healthcare Guru Samuel Isaly Plays Two Key Biotech Stocks: Synergy Pharmaceuticals Inc (SGPY), Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD)

Sameul Isaly, founder of one of the world’s most well-known healthcare funds, has made two key moves on Synergy Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:SGYP) and Gilead Sciences Inc (NASDAQ:GILD). Isaly is the managing partner of OrbiMed, a global management firm that has assets under management of over $13 billion. Isaly is closely tracked by investors due to his exceptional track record: at the beginning of 2016, Barron’s said he was the only US mutual fund manager to beat the S&P 500 for an incredible 25 straight years.

The fund is mainly interested in pharmaceutical and medical device companies, although it invests at all stages from seed-stage venture capital to large-cap public companies. Through its team of 80 scientific, medical, investment and other professionals the fund operates three investing strategies: public equity, private equity and royalty opportunities. At 17% of the US economy, OrbiMed says the healthcare sector is ripe for investment as its “powerful growth profile coupled with its magnitude and complexity create myriad investment opportunities.”

As for Isaly himself, he has a long track record of healthcare investment- starting from 1968 when he began working as a pharmaceutical analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank. Subsequent employers included Merrill Lynch, Legg Mason, and S. G. Warburg until he launched his own fund in 1989. He has an economics degree from Princeton and from the London School of Economics (LSE). According to Isaly, this is a time of huge change for the healthcare sector, which is experiecing rapid technological innovation, strong M&A activity, and uncertainty over President Trump’s approach to drug pricing regulation.

So given this backdrop, let’s now focus in on two key healthcare stock moves Isaly made in Q1:

Synergy Pharmaceuticals Inc

Isaly clearly believes that Synergy Pharmaceuticals has further room to grow. He ramped up OrbiMed’s holding of the stock by 16% to 21 million shares worth close to $100 million.

Good news for Isaly- Synergy has just announced that its Trulance supplemental New Drug Application has been accepted for review by the FDA for IBS-C. The approval decision date for the drug has now been set for January 24 2018.

HC Wainwright’s Ram Salvaraju has an incredibly bullish $18 price target on the stock which he says is “in anticipation of further commercial progress”. Salvaraju believes that Synergy will receive the supplemental approval for Trulance and that this can become a “market-leading” drug for IBS-C which will provide tough competition for rival drugs from Allergan and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. Salvaraju also points out that a team of 250 Synergy reps are currently travelling around the US to educate “high prescribers” about the drug.

Synergy has a moderate buy analyst consensus rating according to TipRanks. We can see that in the last three months the stock has received 5 buy ratings and 1 sell rating from Citigroup – which was now three months ago. The average analyst price target of $12.40 represents a shocking 177% upside from the current share price of $4.55.

Gilead Sciences, Inc.

In Q1, Isaly slashed the fund’s holding in Gilead Sciences by -25%. As a result, the fund now holds 800,900 GILD shares with a value of $54.4 million- about 0.61% of the total portfolio.

Gilead has just announced that Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), which is the scientific committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), gave a positive opinion on the company’s Marketing Authorization Application (MAA) for Vosevi- which until now has only been approved for human testing but not for commercial marketing or sale. The tablet is a once-daily, single tablet regimen that consists of three different drugs- sofosbuvir, velpatasvir, and voxilaprevir (SOF/VEL/VOX)-. for the treatment of chronic HCV-infected patients. No doubt it is hoping that this will help revive sales of its hepatitis drug franchise which is flailing due to competition and pricing issues.

The application process was sped up because the drug is of major public health interest, says Gilead. To support the application, Gilead used data from four Phase 3 trials which tested patients that had been treated with “DAA-containing regimens”. All trials saw at least 95% of patients reach the primary efficacy endpoint.

An application for the same drug has already been filed by Gilead in the US at the end of last year- and the result of this New Drug Application is expected to be announced by the FDA on August 8 2017.

Isaly’s bearish move on Gilead comes in contrast to its strong buy rating from the Street. Indeed, in the last three months, we can see from TipRanks that the stock has received 11 buy and only 2 hold ratings. Meanwhile the average analyst price target of close to $83 now stands at a considerable 15.51% upside from the current share price.


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