Intercept Shares Rise as Drug Sales Recover After Patient Deaths

(Bloomberg) -- Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose to the highest level since September after the company reported increasing sales of its potential blockbuster Ocaliva, a drug previously linked by U.S. officials to the death of 19 people.

Sales of Ocaliva, which is approved to treat a rare liver disease called primary biliary cholangitis, climbed to $43.2 million in the second quarter, the New York-based drugmaker said Thursday. That beat analysts’ estimates of $40.3 million, and was up $8 million from the previous quarter.

In September, Intercept reported 10 deaths in people who had taken the drug. Shortly after, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about excessive dosing of Ocaliva and boosted the death toll to 19. Intercept shares plummeted about 45 percent over the next two weeks, and Ocaliva sales fell for two straight quarters.

Since then the stock has been climbing back. Shares rose to $101.80 in New York on Thursday, the highest since before the deaths were announced. That’s still a far cry from the stock’s record high of $462.26 in 2014 after Intercept first reported positive trial results for Ocaliva.

Ocaliva is also in phase 3 trials for treating NASH, a separate liver disease that’s estimated to occur in 3 percent to 12 percent of Americans, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. That market potential could turn Ocaliva into a $1 billion sales hit by 2021, according to analysts.

Other drugmakers are testing treatments for NASH as well, although Intercept is racing to be first on the market. Results of the drugmaker’s current trial are expected in the first half of 2019. During a call with investors Thursday, company leadership said it was too early to discuss preliminary trial results.

“We think the stock will generally continue to climb high over next six to nine months,” Jefferies Group analyst Michael Yee wrote.

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