Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

These Public Companies Scored the Highest Gains in a Down Market

The “Trump bump” surge in stock prices in the weeks following Election Day was not enough to reverse what turned out to be a down year for Biopharma stocks.

Three major exchange-traded funds saw consistent year-over-year declines during 2016, ranging from 20% (First Trust New York Stock Exchange Arca Biotech Fund, or FBT), to 21% (PowerShares Dynamic Pharmaceuticals ETF, or PJP), to 22% (iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology Exchange-Traded Fund, or IBB). One ETF, however, fared better. The iShares U.S. Pharmaceuticals ETF, or IHE, fell only 13.5% last year.

Despite the bearish overall market compared with 2015, as seen in last year’s GEN list of Wall Street Winners, investors could still find a few nuggets of gold amid the dross—shares of up-and-coming companies, small- to mid-capitalization (“small cap” to “mid cap”) stocks that jumped in value as a result of marketing approvals, positive clinical trials results, or other news announcements and/or speculation about possible acquisitions.

Below is a list of the top 10 best stock performers of 2016. Each item in the list presents a top stock performer’s basic information: company name; stock exchange; trading symbol; closing prices as of December 30, 2016, and December 30, 2015; percentage rise or fall in the closing prices; and brief summary of the factors accounting for a company’s good Wall Street fortune.

Not included on this list are companies that have been or are being acquired following impressive stock-price increases during 2016. In that category is CoLucid Pharmaceuticals, which is set to be bought by Eli Lilly for approximately $960 million after seeing its stock zoom 350.5% following positive Phase III results for its flagship late clinical-stage migraine therapy candidate lasmiditan, an oral 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) receptor 1F (5-HT1F) agonist. Also performing nicely for investors in 2016 was Ariad Pharmaceuticals, whose stock price more than doubled, jumping nearly 116% before announcing on January 9 that it is being acquired by Takeda Pharmaceutical for approximately $5.2 billion.

#10. Argos Therapeutics


December 30, 2016: $4.90

December 30, 2015: $2.44

% Change: 100.8%

Shares of Argos peaked at $12.44 on April 18, capping a 320% surge starting February 3, partly reflecting investor expectations of a successful Phase III trial for AGS-003 in metastatic renal cell carcinoma following two successful data reviews in 2015. The day after Argos peaked, the company disclosed that it was laying off 18 employees—13% of its workforce—to cut expenses, and that COO Fred Miesowicz was resigning. Shares fell 60% to $4.98 on May 4, and except for a spike to $8.12 on June 7, the stock fluctuated around the $5 mark most of the rest of the year—still double its end-of-2015 price. Top-line data from ADAPT is expected to be reported in the first half of 2017.

#9. Merus


December 30, 2016: $21.11

December 30, 2015: N/A (Stock began trading on May 19, 2016, following an initial public offering at $10 a share)

% Change: 111.1%

In a down year for IPOs, Merus was among the companies that successfully went public, though that was not obvious from the first trading day, when it offered 5.5 million shares at $10, with shares closing just 4 cents higher. Shares surged 61.5%, from $11.24 on September 27 to $18.16 on October 5, and ballooned even more in December, from $13.85 on December 16 to its 2016 peak of $21.38 on December 29—eight days after Merus granted Incyte exclusive rights for up to 11 bispecific antibody research programs, including 2 preclinical immuno-oncology discovery programs, in return for Incyte shelling out $120 million upfront and buying $80 million of Merus common shares.

#8. Array BioPharma


December 30, 2016: $8.79

December 30, 2015: $4.15

% Change: 111.8%

Array BioPharma enjoyed not one, but two strong leaps in its share price. The first began on September 26, when the company joined Pierre Fabre in announcing positive topline results for the Phase III COLUMBUS trial, assessing Array’s Encorafenib (LGX818) and binimetinib (MEK162) in patients with BRAF-mutant advanced, unresectable, or metastatic melanoma. Shares leaped 81% to $6.61 from $3.65 the previous trading day (September 23). Shares slipped to $5.38 by November 3 before resuming what would be a 63% climb that began after the companies disclosed more detailed results from COLUMBUS, including a progression-free survival of 14.9 months compared to 7.3 months for Roche/Genentech’s Zelboraf (vemurafenib) alone. The stock jumped to $8.23 on November 29, and it finished the year at its 2016 peak of $8.79.

#7. Achaogen


December 30, 2016: $13.02

December 30, 2015: $5.88

% Change: 121.4%

Achaogen’s share price fluctuated around the $5 level for most of 2016 until the final month of 2016, when the stock began to gain serious ground. The trigger was the company’s December 12 announcement that its lead candidate plazomicin met the objective of non-inferiority compared to meropenem for the FDA and achieved superiority for the European Medicines Agency primary efficacy endpoints in the Phase III EPIC registration trial in patients with complicated urinary tract infections (cUTI) and acute pyelonephritis (AP). Shares nearly tripled between December 8, when they closed at $5.08 (unchanged from the previous day’s close) to December 13, when the price reached its 2016 peak of $14.86.

#6. AveXis


December 30, 2016: $47.73

December 30, 2015: N/A (Stock began trading on February 11, 2016, following an initial public offering at $20 a share)

% Change: 138.7%

While AveXis had its ups and downs during 2016, the company enjoyed its strongest surge of 2016 after disclosing on November 1 that its pivotal study of lead product AVXS-101 in spinal muscular atrophy type 1 would employ a single-arm design, using natural history of the disease as a comparator, and enrolling approximately 20 patients. The study is set to begin in the first half of 2017. The stock jumped 49% from a close of $48.01 on November 1 to its 2016 peak closing price of $71.36 on November 15 before falling again—yet still more than double its offering price. The IPO raised $95 million through the sale of 4.75 million shares, though shares dipped that first day of trading from the $20 offering price, closing at $18.05.

#5. Novan


December 30, 2016: $27.02

December 30, 2015: N/A (Stock began trading on September 21, 2016, following an initial public offering at $11 a share)

% Change: 145.6%

The developer of dermatology drugs based on its nitric oxide platform went public in September, raising $45 million after pricing its shares at the low end of its $11 to $13 range, then increasing its number of available shares to 4.1 million from the expected 3.75 million. Investors responded favorably, causing shares to rise 65% to $18.10 at the end of its first day of trading. Shares peaked at $29.06 on December 7, following positive clinical results and favorable ratings from analysts—plus investor anticipation of strong results from two Phase III trials of acne vulgaris candidate SB204. Those results came January 27 and were mixed, causing shares to plunge 74%.

#4. Tesaro


December 30, 2016: $134.48

December 30, 2015: $52.64

% Change: 155.5%

Shares more than doubled on June 29, from $37.21 to $77.40, after the company announced that lead product niraparib significantly improved progression-free survival for patients with ovarian cancer in both cohorts of the Phase III NOVA trial. Niraparib won FDA Fast Track designation and began a rolling submission on September 12, seeking approval for patients with recurrent platinum-sensitive ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer. Niraparib also won FDA Priority Review, with a PDUFA goal date of June 30, 2017. Shares leaped 19% to $117.91 on October 10 following presentation of positive niraparib results from the ENGOT-OV16/NOVA trial two days earlier at the 2016 Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).

#3. Exelixis


December 30, 2016: $14.91

December 30, 2015: $5.65

% Change: 163.9%

Exelixis on January 4 trumpeted its first positive results announcement from the Phase III METEOR trial comparing then-lead candidate Cabometyx (cabozantinib) to Novartis’ everolimus in 658 patients with renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Cabozantinib showed clinically meaningful improvements in overall survival, progression-free survival, and objective response rate in METEOR. On April 25, the FDA approved Cabometyx for RCC in patients who received prior anti-angiogenic therapy; European approval came September 14. Shares jumped 18%, from $9.39 to $11.07, on August 4, a day after the release of second-quarter results reflecting in part the first revenue from Cabometyx. Positive third-quarter results on November 3 sparked a 79% surge that sent the stock price up to its 2016 high, reaching $18.25 on December 6.

#2. Corbus Pharmaceutical Holdings


December 30, 2016: $8.45

December 30, 2015: $1.61

% Change: 424.8%

Shares quintupled in value during 2016, peaking at $9.79 on October 7 before dipping to $9.34 on October 13, the day Corbus announced the completion of its Phase II trial of lead candidate Resunab (JBT-101), a synthetic oral endocannabinoid-mimetic drug, for diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis. A month-long slide ended on November 14, when Corbus reported positive topline results based on the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) combined response index in diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis (CRISS) score, reaching 33% at week 16, versus 0% for placebo. Investors responded by sending shares up 51%, to $8.85 from $5.85, over two successive trading days.

#1. Axim Biotechnologies

OTC Markets: AXIM

December 30, 2016: $8.70

December 30, 2015: $0.30

% Change: 2,800%

For an over-the-counter stock that showed little strength most of 2016, Axim’s exponential share-price growth was all the more remarkable. The developer of drugs, neutraceuticals, and cosmetics based on molecularly modified cannabinoids hovered at 42 cents a share as late as October 25, before the stock zoomed to $3.50 just three days later as investors took notice of Axim’s cannabinoid gums. Furthest along among drug candidates is MedChewRx™ for chronic pain and spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis; a proof-of-concept Phase IIa trial is expected to start this year. MedChewRx is also in Phase I studies in Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and restless leg syndrome. Shares dipped to $2.70 before zooming to the 2016 peak of $9.85 on November 21, fueled by Axim’s publication of its pipeline chart.

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