It may not be nine out of 10 doctors, but Valencia’s MannKind Corp. will take it.
A survey of 120 endocrinologists and primary care doctors showed that while more than one-third still don’t know about the company’s product, an inhalable insulin treatment called Afrezza, those who do suggested they’ll prescribe it at a higher rate than anticipated.
And that gave MannKind’s stock just the shot in the arm – or spray in the mouth – it needed.
Shares closed at $4.70 on May 20, well down from the company’s 52-week high of $11.48, but up 30 percent for the week. It was one of the biggest gainers on the LABJ Stock Index. (See page 44.)
MannKind, founded by 89-year-old medical entrepreneur Alfred Mann, cut a deal with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi in September, giving that company the right to market and sell Afrezza. Sanofi paid MannKind $150 million up front and agreed to pay as much as $775 million down the line if the drug clears certain sales and regulatory milestones.
Afrezza, which is manufactured at MannKind’s Danbury, Conn., plant, launched in the United States on Feb. 3. Sales have been tepid since, which has put downward pressure on the company’s share price. The stock is down about 30 percent since the product launched.
And on May 11, a team of analysts at New York finance giant JPMorgan Chase Inc., led by Cory Kasimov, downgraded MannKind’s stock from “neutral” to “underweight,” citing an FDA testing requirement as a “major hurdle” in adoption of the drug. In a research note that same day, they wrote, “The bottom line is that we are increasingly skeptical that prescriptions will gain material traction anytime soon, which could put the balance sheet into an increasingly precarious position.”
But a May 15 report from Shaunak Deepak, an analyst at New York investment bank Jefferies, revealed the results of the new survey and sparked a reversal of fortune.
A full 35 percent of the doctors Jefferies surveyed had not heard about Afrezza. Eight percent knew of the drug but didn’t anticipate prescribing it, while 10 percent had already written a prescription.
Deepak believes ignorance helps explain Afrezza’s slow momentum so far but said he expects sales to ramp up quickly as Sanofi rolls out a marketing campaign later this year.
MannKind held its shareholder meeting on May 21 and executives could not be reached for comment.
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