And just like that, the tides have turned for Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO). Shares of the high-flying biotech dropped last week by 31%, the vast majority of which came after the release of interim data from the early stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, INO-4800.
You could chalk the dip up to a classic case of “buy the rumor, sell the news,” but this sell-off was slightly more nuanced, with the lack of a clear good/bad story leaving a lot to interpretation.
The company said that after giving participants two doses of the vaccine, 94% "demonstrated overall immune responses." What probably concerned investors was the fact that finer immune response details were missing. Specifically, how many patients produced neutralizing antibodies that could prevent a COVID-19 infection. This looks bad when compared to Pfizer/BioNTech, as they published a richly detailed report of their candidate’s progress on the same day.
The full data is expected to be published in a medical journal in the near future. Meanwhile, at investment firm Maxim, analyst Naureen Quibria believes the data was “positive.”
The analyst said, “In truth, while we don’t know what 'good' immunogenicity data should be, studies suggest that both T cell and antibody immune responses will be important for protection in both mild and serious infections, particularly given that most convalescent plasmas obtained from individuals that have recovered from COVID-19 do not appear to contain high levels of neutralizing activity (e.g., one study, published in Nature). However, reports have also highlighted that the virus-specific T cells found in convalescent patients can control the severity of their COVID-19 disease. As such, the early data for INO-4800 appear to be promising, in our view.”
However, the analyst can’t ignore Inovio’s lofty valuation, which, along with the murky data, played a part in the sell-off. Even after last week’s drop, shares are still up by 540% since the turn of the year. Therefore, for Quibria, “the success of INO-4800 is priced into the shares.”
Accordingly, Quibria downgraded Inovio from Buy to Hold, and took the price target off the table. (To watch Quibria’s track record, click here)
Other analysts appear to be reading from the same page. Based on 2 Buys, 5 Holds and 1 Sell, Inovio has a Hold consensus rating. There’s small upside of 3% in the cards, should the average price target of $22 be met over the next 12 months. (See Inovio stock analysis on TipRanks)
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