Analysts point to promising pipeline despite Covid vaccine jitters

A healthcare worker prepares to inject a vaccine against AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Eloisa Lopez

The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine controversy has sparked some investor concerns about its stock, according to Jefferies – but it’s not all bad news for the UK pharmaceutical company.

Australia, the Philippines and the African Union have either contained or abandoned proposed Oxford-AstraZeneca University coronavirus purchases due to possible links to blood clots.

This came after UK health and vaccine regulators issued a change to guidelines on Wednesday on who should get the shot, suggesting that those under 30 should be given an alternative vaccine. Both UK and European Medicines Regulators (MHRA and EMA, respectively) have stressed that the benefits of the sting still outweigh the risks, but EU leaders have yet to agree on a common policy on the shots.

In a research report earlier this week, Jefferies Research Analyst Peter Welford said he received a pushback from customers because he recently decided to buy AstraZeneca’s shares to buy based on the “noise” about the vaccine .

This is despite the fact that the company has promised that the vaccine will be non-profit making for the “duration of the pandemic” and that it will be offered to low- and middle-income countries on a permanent basis.

The overall risk of blood clots has been estimated at around one in 250,000 and British policymakers and health experts have rushed to defend the vaccine in recent days.

Welford noted that, despite the company’s “notable successes” in gaining regulatory approval and accelerating the manufacture of its profitable vaccine, safety concerns expressed in Europe “are of paramount concern to many generalists.”

“We see FDA emergency use approval and UK / EU dose distribution agreements as key to moving the debate beyond the COVID-19 vaccine, despite concerns that it will be a distraction for management,” he explained.

The vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, Europe and other countries, and hundreds of millions of doses have been ordered from countries around the world. However, no emergency permit has yet been issued in the United States

Jefferies thought outside the box and upgraded AstraZeneca to buy in mid-March. He noted its “compelling growth profile within the EU pharmaceuticals industry” and its relative discount based on the expected strategic benefits of the $ 37 billion acquisition of Alexion Pharmaceuticals in the third quarter.

Welford defended the move by highlighting that 15 times the company’s estimated price-earnings ratio by 2022 – a mechanism for determining whether a company’s stock is fairly valued – is similar to its peers despite its “leading growth profile” .

Promising pipeline

AstraZeneca was trading on the London Stock Exchange on Friday at £ 7,337 a share and Jefferies has set a price target of £ 8,850. In Wednesday’s research note, Welford again pointed to several catalysts in the pipeline that could drive stocks higher in the coming months.

The phase 3 study data for the breast cancer treatment enhertu is expected to be available in the second half of 2021, along with possible approvals for the anifrolumab drug for the treatment of lupus. Jefferies is also anticipating approvals for the asthma drug tezepelumab in the first half of 2022 after “impressive” phase three data and a long delayed approval for the anemia candidate Roxadustat in the second half of 2021. Updated first and second phase data from Lung cancer datopotamab is also expected soon.

In a recent announcement, Damien Conover, Director of Healthcare Equity Research at Morningstar, said of AstraZeneca, “The strong overall innovation that has come from the vaccine and pipeline strengthens our beliefs in the company’s vast moat.”

He added that AstraZeneca had “made progress in addressing areas of unmet medical need” and forecast that data from the company’s Phase 3 trial of Farxiga treatment for conserved heart failure would likely lead to approval of the drug.

Conover rated anifrolumab as a “higher regulatory risk”, while roxadustat was rated as a “medium risk” and tezepelumab as a “lower risk”.

“In the longer term, we are encouraged by the robustness of the early-stage pipeline and the opportunities to develop combinations with Farxiga appear well-positioned to address several major cardiometabolic indications where unmet medical needs remain high,” said Conover. He added that Morningstar also remains bullish on AstraZeneca’s cancer drugs pipeline.

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