At the end of April, shares of Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) were hovering near their 52-week highs of $85.97. The stock has been falling since then, and it’s now trading at just about $76. Year to date, the stock is still up 17%, and well above the 4% decline the S&P 500 has seen during the same period.
A big reason for Gilead’s recent decline is the waning hype surrounding the company’s potential COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir. Let’s take a closer look at why the excitement surrounding the drug has faded and whether you should consider buying shares of Gilead anyway.
Recent remdesivir studies were underwhelming
Studies of remdesivir and its effectiveness in treating COVID-19 haven’t been all that encouraging thus far. On April 29, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released results from a remdesivir study involving 1,063 patients. The good news was that the drug was showing signs of effectiveness in fighting COVID-19, but it wasn’t the slam dunk everyone was hoping for.
Image source: Getty Images.
The results showed a 31% faster recovery time for patients who took remdesivir compared with those who took the placebo. The mortality rate for patients who took the drug was 8% compared with 11.6% for those who didn’t.
On June 1, Gilead released Phase 3 trials of the drug that looked at five- and 10-day treatments. The results weren’t enough to get investors excited, as only the 5-day treatment course showed an improvement that was statistically significant. Patients on the shorter treatment option were 65% more likely to see a clinical improvement by the 11th day compared with those patients who didn’t take remdesivir.
The hope, however, was that as more people used remdesivir, more progress would be reported.
Is this a case of no news = bad news?
What’s perhaps most concerning is that there hasn’t been significant progress noted since remdesivir has been shipped out to hospitals across the country. On May 1, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Gilead emergency use authorization for remdesivir to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19, including when oxygen levels are low and a ventilator is needed.
Gilead has donated approximately 607,000 doses of remdesivir to health officials in the U.S., which the Department of Health and Human Services then distributed to states across the country. But despite all those treatments now in circulation, there hasn’t been any significant news to suggest that the drug is making significant progress or performing any better than the recent, disappointing studies indicated it would.
The one caveat in all of this is that COVID-19 has been proving to be a complicated disease, affecting people in different ways. It’s possible that remdesivir could be effective under the right circumstances, which just may not be clear yet.
Does this mean investors should ditch the stock?
With Gilead’s recent drop in price, the stock is now trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of about 19, which doesn’t make it too bad of a value buy. And with the stock paying a quarterly dividend of $0.68, it’s yielding a decent 3.5% per year — well above the 2% investors can normally expect from an average stock on the S&P 500.
And there’s hope beyond remdesivir, as Gilead also has filgotinib, which treats rheumatoid arthritis. The company submitted a new drug application to the FDA for filgotinib in December. If approved, it could inject Gilead’s top line with some much-needed sales growth.
The company’s top line was flat in 2019. However, in Gilead’s first-quarter results of fiscal 2020, which it released on April 30, sales were up 5% from the prior-year period. The growth was primarily due to higher HIV product sales, which grew by 14%.
Overall, Gilead’s a decent, low-risk buy that could take off if health officials can find a way to make remdesivir more effective in treating COVID-19, or if the FDA approves filgotinib. If nothing else, investors can secure a decent dividend and invest in a company that’s been fairly stable, recording just one loss in its last nine quarters.
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