Aurinia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AUPH) stock is without question one of the best-performing biotech stocks so far in 2017. Shares of the red-hot biotech have tripled in price year to date. Aurinia reported great results from a phase 2 study of experimental lupus nephritis drug voclosporin in March, causing the stock to skyrocket.
The big question for investors now, though, is: Can Aurinia Pharmaceuticals stock go even higher? Here are three charts that show the answer to that question is "yes" -- at least over the long term.
1. Efficacy for voclosporin
Sometimes, the phrase "positive clinical results" isn't enough to convey just how well a drug performed in testing. That's certainly true for Aurinia's phase 2 results for voclosporin. The following chart (actually, I'm cheating a bit by including a slide with two charts) provides a hint of how effective the experimental drug could be in treating lupus nephritis.
There are three things to note on these charts. First, patients taking voclosporin experienced much better progression to partial or complete remission than patients in the control group, who took placebo. Second, the statistical significance for this improvement appears to be solid. The lower the p value, the better -- and values of less than 0.001 (for complete remission) and 0.007 (for partial remission) are great. Third, the results at 48 weeks were either close to or better than the 24-week results. That's what you want to see if you're Aurinia.
Here's what even those numbers don't tell, though: The results for voclosporin on complete remission were the best of any major lupus nephritis study ever. Nine different studies targeting the disease have either failed or been stopped. Teva had encouraging results from a phase 2 study of laquinimod but has focused on other indications for the drug. Voclosporin is, without exaggeration, the most promising treatment for lupus nephritis to come along.
2. Cost of treating lupus nephritis
It's important for investors interested in Aurinia to understand the disease that the company is targeting. Lupus nephritis is a kidney disease caused by systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Over 500,000 individuals in the U.S. have SLE (primarily women). Up to 60% of those people develop lupus nephritis. Between 10% and 30% of patients with severe lupus nephritis eventually progress to end-stage renal disease.
Those statistics give you an idea of how serious lupus nephritis is. But look at the following chart to understand how costly the disease is.
There are no current therapies for lupus nephritis approved in the U.S. or in Europe. With the extremely high medical costs of the disease, it's extremely likely that payers will be eager to reimburse for a drug that can effectively treat the disease. At least one analyst projects that voclosporin could generate peak annual sales of $1.6 billion. That seems achievable, in my opinion.
3. Cash isn't a problem
There are two major events that can derail a clinical-stage biotech stock. One is a clinical setback. The other is running low on cash. It's pretty much impossible to predict the first, but it's easy to know where a biotech stands with respect to cash. In Aurinia's case, the situation looks good.
The big jump in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments in early 2017 resulted from Aurinia's stock offering. That stock offering explains why Aurinia has "only" tripled its market cap so far in 2017 instead of close to quintupling it.
However, the good news is that the biotech should be able to fund operations through the phase 3 study and anticipated regulatory-approval process for voclosporin. Running out of cash shouldn't be on the horizon.
That leaves the potential for a clinical setback. I wouldn't discount the possibility that Aurinia runs into a snag in late-stage testing or with the regulatory-approval process. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Aurinia Pharmaceuticals' market cap is around $530 million right now. Barring a stumble in its dash to the finish line for voclosporin, I think this biotech stock should go a lot higher.