Valeant Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:BHC) CEO Joe Papa might not have been a cheerleader in school, but he's definitely one now. With his company's stock in tatters, Papa was asked at the BMO Capital Markets Healthcare Conference on Wednesday what are the most compelling reasons to buy Valeant's stock right now. Here are the three reasons he gave.
Papa's got a brand-new bag -- of executives. The Valeant CEO started his comments at the BMO conference by emphasizing there's a new group of people in charge of the beleaguered company, beginning with Papa himself.
Since Papa was named CEO in April, the board of directors membership has changed significantly. A new corporate controller was hired in May. The company gained a new general counsel and senior VP of business strategy and communications in August. Several other executives saw their duties expanded at that time as well. A few weeks later, a new CFO was brought on board.
More recently, Valeant created a new position of chief quality officer in October. And earlier this month, the company hired a new executive VP to head up its dermatology business.
However, Papa also noted that Valeant has made strides in keeping more of its staff who aren't at the executive level. Employee turnover was around 11% in the first quarter, a number that he acknowledged wasn't good. Since then, Valeant has cut that figure by more than half. Papa said that he has had to "re-recruit" his staff.
The second most compelling reason for buying Valeant stock now, according to Papa, is the company's pipeline. Brodalumab stands at the top of the list.
An approval decision for the experimental psoriasis drug was originally supposed to have been made by Nov. 16, 2016. However, the Food and Drug Administration pushed its decision back by three months. The agency needed more time to dig into potential suicide ideation issues with brodalumab.
At this point, it still seems likely that the drug will win approval. However, the brodalumab's label could include a warning about a potential risk of suicidal thoughts associated with taking the drug. (To put this issue into perspective, six out of 6,000 patients who took brodalumab in clinical studies committed suicide. That's a higher number than would have been expected statistically.)
Approval and a successful launch of brodalumab could be huge for Valeant. Late-stage clinical trials found the drug to be more effective at treating psoriasis than Stelara, which raked in almost $2.5 billion last year. Papa commented that, as far as he knows, brodalumab has the highest psoriasis clearance numbers of any drug.
Brodalumab isn't Valeant's only pipeline candidate with significant potential. The company expects to launch over a dozen new products by the end of 2019.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room wherever Papa goes is Valeant's $30 billion in debt. He cited the company's commitment to reducing that debt as the third reason to buy Valeant stock.
Papa said that Valeant will have all mandatory debt payments for 2017 paid down by the end of this year. He also reiterated the company's plan to sell off non-core assets. Papa still thinks that these sales combined with achieving operational improvements will allow Valeant to pay off $5 billion in debt by early 2018.
Investors were disappointed that a potential deal to sell its Salix business to Takeda fell through. Although Papa didn't provide any detailed comments, Bloomberg reported that inside sources said that the two companies couldn't agree on the price tag for the gastrointestinal drug business unit.
Papa considers the Salix products, particularly Xifaxan, to be part of Valeant's core assets. With Salix seemingly off the table, what might the company sell? Papa has ruled out the Bausch + Lomb eye care, dermatology, and consumer products businesses in the past. However, he has left open the possibility to sell any assets outside of the U.S. and Canada.
Cheers or jeers?
Now for a reality check. Valeant's stock price is down over 60% since Papa took the helm as CEO. While he does have a brand-new team in place now, the executive changes over the last several months haven't made a positive difference yet that investors can see.
Valeant does have some promise with its pipeline, but the company also has some real challenges with several drugs facing generic competition. Assuming brodalumab wins approval, taking away market share from Stelara won't be a piece of cake.
And while Valeant has plans to sell non-core assets to reduce its debt, those plans would still leave the company owing roughly $25 billion. Papa likes to refer to Valeant as a "start-up company," but few start-ups with that kind of debt load achieve success.
I don't think that Papa's reasons for buying the stock are compelling right now. I'd rather wait to see if the new team can deliver, if brodalumab is approved and gets off to a good start, and if Valeant really does pay down its debt as advertised.
With all that being said, I think Joe Papa is a pretty good cheerleader for his company. He seems to genuinely believe that Valeant can turn things around. If it does, it will be Papa that deserves all the cheers.