Viking Therapeutics stock up after promising results for fatty liver drug
By Cristin Flanagan Sep. 18, 2018
Shares of Viking Therapeutics soared 87 percent Tuesday to close at $19.46 after the company said initial results for an experimental therapy for fatty liver disease exceeded investors’ expectations.
Viking’s medicine, VK2809, cut the bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, as well as liver fat more than the placebo, the study showed. Ten milligrams of the therapy was shown by MRI to cut liver fat by 57 percent when taken every other day and by 60 percent when taken once a day. Results from the 12-week study of both doses showed liver fat was cut by roughly 30 percent or more in roughly 83 percent of patients, compared with 18 percent with the placebo.
Shares of the San Diego company have soared in the past 12 months, climbing more than 750 percent as data from Madrigal Pharmaceuticals spurred the rally. Both companies are developing similar drugs belonging to the same class of liver-directed thyroid hormone receptor agonists.
While Viking’s results were in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the company plans to move VK2809 forward in a more severe form of the disease known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, where there is also inflammation and liver damage, in addition to built-up fat in the liver, Chief Executive Officer Brian Lian said.
The severe form of the disease, which is occurring more with ever-increasing rates of obesity, is expected to be a multibillion-dollar market, and drug companies are racing to find new treatments for the disease. Viking still needs to make a final report of the study results before talking to the Food and Drug Administration, which Lian expects to happen in the first half of 2019.
The next step for Viking after clearing a plan with the agency will be a combined mid- to late-stage study where patients get liver biopsies at the beginning and end of the study.
“Madrigal and others have shown that liver fat reductions seem to be similar across disease severity,” Lian said. He believes a study solely in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis patients will produce results similar to the current data.
Meanwhile, comparisons to Madrigal’s results are already being made. Viking’s drug looks “best in class,” William Blair analyst Andy Hsieh wrote in a note to clients. While acknowledging the caveats of comparing across trials, he said VK2809 appears to be “numerically better” when compared with the up to 42 percent cut in liver fat from a separate mid-stage study of Madrigal’s drug. Madrigal shares dropped 9 percent to $207.30.
Viking’s results have been submitted to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, which will meet in San Francisco Nov. 9-13.