What happened

Shares of Clovis Oncology (CLVS), a commercial-stage biotech, were up by a healthy 15.6% as of 10:27 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning. The biotech's shares are ripping higher today due to the WallStreetBets subreddit crowd.

The main attraction for the WallStreetBets folks appears to be Clovis' sizable short interest. At last count, almost a third of the company's float was sold short, per the Nasdaq stock exchange, making it an intriguing short squeeze candidate.  

A rocket taking off.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

When retail investors join into a large group, they can certainly force short-sellers to cover their positions. Clovis, however, may have trouble sustaining these sudden gains despite its newfound popularity on social media.

The harsh truth is that the biotech's large short interest definitely has a strong rationale behind it. Namely, Clovis' ovarian cancer drug Rubraca hasn't been able to compete effectively in a jam-packed marketplace since its original approval almost five years ago.

Underscoring this point, the drug raked in a mere $38.1 million in sales during the first quarter of 2021. And as a direct result of Rubraca's poor commercial performance, Clovis has had to repeatedly tap the public markets for capital, which hasn't helped its share price, to say the least.

The graph below illustrates this point nicely:

CLVS Chart

CLVS data by YCharts.

Now what

Is Clovis worth the risk? On the one hand, its shares might be grossly undervalued. Wall Street's current consensus estimate, after all, has Rubraca's sales jumping by a whopping 45% to $254 million in 2022. If true, the biotech's shares would be trading at less than three times next year's sales at current levels. That's an outright bargain in the world of biopharma.

Then again, we've heard this story about this drug before, and so far, Rubraca has failed to live up to expectations. As such, value investors might want to sit this one out for the time being.