Over the past few months, global leaders in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries have entered newsworthy partnerships, accelerating human trials on an unprecedented level in the ongoing race for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. With breaking developments hitting the news cycle almost daily, it's often hard to keep track of the companies leading the coronavirus race. Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) isn't receiving the same media buzz as companies like Moderna or Pfizer, but it ought to be.
Eli Lilly is currently running several human trials of prospective COVID-19 treatments. One of these treatment candidates is its anti-arthritic medication Olumiant (baricitinib), which the company is evaluating with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as a therapy option for critically ill COVID-19 patients. Eli Lilly is also partnering with privately held Canadian biotech AbCellera and Chinese company Junshi Biosciences on separate phase 1 human studies of prospective antibody therapies.
Amid the volatile coronavirus market, Eli Lilly shares have remained fairly resistant. The stock did dip slightly in March, along with much of the broader market, but has recovered nicely since then. Currently, Eli Lilly stock is sitting at just 14% below its 52-week high, while shares are up about 40% from their 52-week low.
Knowing where to invest your hard-earned money during a global recession and identifying coronavirus stocks positioned for long-term growth isn't easy. Here's why I believe Eli Lilly stock looks to be a solid investment during these uncertain times.
Forging a path in the competitive COVID-19 treatment space
Lilly's partnership with AbCellera, which also involves a collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center at the NIAID, was first announced March 12. On June 1, the company announced that the first patients had been dosed with LY-CoV555, the lead antibody from the AbCellera collaboration, in a phase 1 human study. If the study shows positive results, Lilly intends to conduct another study of the potential antibody treatment in patients with moderate cases of the coronavirus. Results from the phase 1 study are expected by the end of the month.
Another contender in the race to develop a COVID-19 treatment is Lilly's rheumatoid arthritis medication, Olumiant, which it is studying in partnership with the NIAID. The NIAID is evaluating the efficacy of Olumiant in combination with Gilead Sciences's antiviral medication remdesivir.
Lilly is also conducting its own phase 3 study of Olumiant. It expects the results from this study to be available in a few months' time, with the data to complement the results from the NIAID-led study.
The third partnership Lilly has entered into is with Chinese biotech company Junshi Biosciences, which it announced on May 4.Lilly is working with Junshi to develop preventative and therapeutic antibody candidates. On June 8, the first healthy volunteer was dosed with the lead antibody from this collaboration, called JS016. Both Lilly and Junshi will operate phase 1 human studies of JS016 in the United States and China, respectively, with phase 2 studies to follow if the antibody proves efficacious in the first round.
Lilly is also evaluating its investigational drug LY3127804 in a phase 2 study as a potential treatment for coronavirus patients who have pneumonia and are vulnerable to developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The study is intended to assess whether LY3127804 could slow the onset of ARDS or reduce the need for a ventilator.
Strong first-quarter results and financial outlook
Lilly's ongoing efforts to develop coronavirus therapies and treatments are just a fraction of its potential future growth story. The company entered the coronavirus bear market from a stellar 2019 during which revenue was up 4% to just under $23 billion.
In the first quarter of 2020, Lilly's earnings grew rather than declined as a result of the pandemic. The company stated in its Q1 update that demand for its core products as a result of the coronavirus boosted sales by $250 million, driving a 15% revenue increase from Q1 2019 and resulting in 22% overall volume growth.
The company earned nearly $6 billion in global sales and more than $3 billion in U.S. sales in the first three months of 2020. Lilly projects 2020 earnings per share to hit somewhere between $6.20 and $6.40, with full-year revenues between $23.7 billion and $24.2 billion.
A versatile product portfolio boosted by pandemic demand
Several key products drove Lilly's performance in the first quarter of 2020. One of the big winners for the company was Olumiant. Sales of Olumiant outside the U.S. were up by 70%, totaling approximately $128 million, while U.S. sales totaled just over $11 million. Antidepressant and nerve pain medication Cymbalta was another big winner for Eli Lilly in the first quarter of the year, with global revenue up 28% from the year before, reaching just over $210 million.
The rise in Lilly's overall revenue during the pandemic largely stemmed from increased sales of its diabetes medications. The company estimated that U.S. sales of its insulin products were up by $70 million to $80 million in the first quarter of the year, with U.S. sales for its type 2 diabetes medication Trulicity up as much as $40 million. In the first three months of 2020, global sales of Trulicity rose 40% from Q1 2019, totaling over $1.2 billion.
U.S. sales of Lilly's autoimmune medication Talz were up by as much as $25 million as a result of the pandemic. The company currently has an array of late-stage drug candidates in the works, including mirikizumab, an investigational drug for the treatment of psoriasis.
The bottom line
There are many reasons to like this stock in addition to its promising coronavirus treatment candidates. The company has been in business since 1876, which means it not only has a defined history of navigating many of the world's worst crises to date but looks more than prepared to weather the current storm. Eli Lilly shares have remained fairly buoyant throughout the coronavirus crisis and didn't experience the sharp decline other pharmaceutical stocks did.
The company's solid product portfolio was flourishing prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and the pandemic has only caused an additional surge in demand. Its current dividend yield of about 2.1%, on par with the S&P 500 average, is just icing on the cake.
If just one of Lilly's antibody candidates proves effective to treat COVID-19, the impact on the company's future growth story could be significant. In any case, with or without a successful COVID-19 treatment on the market, Eli Lilly is a tempting buy.