Most companies with a market cap below $300 million don't get a lot of public attention. That's not the case for Organovo Holdings (NASDAQ:ONVO). Of course, its status as the acknowledged leader in the up-and-coming field of 3D bioprinting makes Organovo a special case.
Organovo made plenty of news during 2015 -- and drew plenty of attention. Despite ending the year down over 60%, Organovo did have some good news during 2015. Here are three of the best headlines from the past year:
1. Promising potential for exVive3D
April Fool's Day marked one of the most encouraging points of the year for Organovo. On April 1, the company presented data at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston. A highlight of Organovo's presentation was news that its bioprinted human liver tissue, exVive3D, managed to detect toxicity that wasn't caught previously in pre-clinical studies.
Warner-Lambert won FDA approval for diabetes drug Rezulin back in 1997. However, the drug was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2000 after it was linked to 63 deaths resulting from liver failure. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) bought Warner-Lambert just a few months after Rezulin was pulled from the market. A whopping 35,000 claims were brought against Pfizer. The giant drugmaker settled all but three of those claims in 2009 for $750 million.
Why is all this history important? Organovo's bioprinted human liver tissue showed a statistically significant drop in liver tissue due to Rezulin after seven days. This dramatically underscored the commercial potential for exVive3D to help pharmaceutical companies test experimental drugs. Had Organovo's technology been available back in the late 1990s, it's entirely possible that Rezulin would have never been approved, Pfizer could have avoided costly litigation -- and, most importantly, lives could have been saved.
2. Cantor Fitzgerald optimism
More good news followed just a week later. On April 8, investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald initiated coverage on Organovo with a buy rating and a price target of $5 per share. That target was 15% higher than the stock's price at the time. Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Caroline Corner said that "Organovo's proprietary bioprinting process could provide disruptive additions to the pharmaceutical toxicology markets near term."
This optimism sparked a nice springtime run for Organovo's shares. Unfortunately, though, what Cantor Fitzgerald gives, the firm can also take. On Aug. 11, Cantor lowered its rating for Organovo from buy to hold, causing shares to fall.
3. Best of what's new
Organovo received a nice surprise in November. The company announced on Nov. 18 that Popular Science magazine named its 3D bioprinted kidney tissue as a "Best of What's New" for 2015, ranking Organovo's product as one of the 100 greatest innovations of the year.
While the Popular Science accolade didn't make a huge immediate impact in Organovo's stock price, don't underestimate the importance of this great publicity. Organovo's valuation stems primarily from expectations about the potential for its technology. Being named as one of the greatest innovations of the year helps reinforce those expectations -- and keeps Organovo's stock prices at higher levels than its financial results would warrant on their own.
Organovo's management thinks the liver tissue product could ultimately bring in over $100 million annually. 2016 might prove to be a good start for getting to that level. Perhaps exVive3D will generate impressive revenue as drugmakers realize its potential.
Maybe Organovo will be an acquisition target next year. After all, the company's market cap is significantly less than half the amount Pfizer paid to settle those Rezulin lawsuits. Somebody somewhere could decide Organovo's technology would be a great asset to have in-house.
It's impossible to know what the best news of 2016 will be for Organovo. What we do know is that it remains a highly speculative stock -- but with a technology that indeed holds plenty of potential. And that will keep Organovo in the headlines.