Healthcare stocks were a mixed bag in 2022. While healthcare giants that pay dividends to shareholders churned higher as a result of their inherent safety, pure-play research and developmental companies, on balance, lost significant ground from a valuation standpoint last year. 

Investors soured on developmental-stage drugmakers in 2022 due to rising interest rates. The long and short of it is that most of these companies are cash-burning machines due to the costly nature of clinical trials, regulatory filings, and an initial sales force ramp-up. 

Madrigal Pharmaceuticals (MDGL 0.90%) and Viking Therapeutics (VKTX -2.19%) bucked this downward trend in a big way. These two clinical-stage biopharma stocks have gained an eye-catching 338% and 170%, respectively, over just the past three months. Here's why these two surging healthcare stocks are still worth buying right now. 

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Madrigal Pharmaceuticals

Madrigal's shares have been charging higher of late in response to a positive late-stage readout for its lead product candidate, resmetirom, in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Resmetirom is a liver-directed selective thyroid hormone receptor agonist. NASH is a sub-type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease for which there are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapies.

Incidence rates, while hard to nail down due to the difficulty in diagnosing the condition (a liver biopsy is the only definitive diagnostic right now), have been steadily climbing as a result of the rise in obesity, prediabetes, and diabetes globally. In the U.S., epidemiologists estimate that a whopping 12% of all adults suffer from this life-threatening liver ailment.

As a result, the untapped NASH drug market could be worth from $30 billion to $50 billion per year by the end of the decade, according to various analyst estimates. The key variables in this forecast are the development of a safe and effective NASH therapy, along with the advent of a less invasive diagnostic. 

Madrigal is clearly in an interesting position from a value creation standpoint for its shareholders. Although the company now sports a $5.2 billion market cap, resmetirom's peak sales may eclipse the $8.5 billion mark due to its first-mover advantage.  

Madrigal stock, in turn, might be woefully undervalued right now. 

Viking Therapeutics

Viking's stock price has benefited from Madrigal's breakthrough in NASH in a big way. The reason is that Viking is also developing a selective thyroid hormone receptor agonist, VK2809, for NASH. VK2809 is presently in a phase 2b trial for biopsy-confirmed NASH patients. Viking, per its last update earlier this month, expects to unveil the drug's top-line data in this setting sometime in the second quarter of 2023. 

What's particularly interesting about this healthcare stock is the company's market cap. At $861 million, Viking might be incredibly undervalued right now. Even as a second or third NASH drug on the market, VK2809 could quite possibly generate well over $1 billion in annual sales. So, from an organic standpoint, Viking's market cap has the potential to double or perhaps triple if VK2809 turns out to be a viable NASH candidate. 

What's more, Viking might be a top buyout candidate in the event of a midstage win in NASH later this year. Big pharma has shown a keen interest in this indication, and Viking may turn out to be a far cheaper alternative (as a buyout play) than Madrigal.