Relypsa (RLYP) bears had been winning the fight against the bulls, but there might be a reversal of fortune coming if a report Thursday of acquisition interest in the biotech company is true.
Shares of Relypsa shot up 48% to $21.58 on a Reuters report, citing unnamed sources, which says the company has hired an investment bank and is exploring a sale following the receipt of offers from a "number of potential buyers."
Relypsa secured U.S. approval last fall to sell Veltassa, a new treatment for patients with elevated levels of potassium, known as hyperkalemia. Relypsa's commercial launch of Veltassa started in January, so it's just getting off the ground, but it's already been a battleground for investors bullish and bearish on the drug's prospects in what could be a billion-dollar market.
Before Thursday, bears had been winning the fight, with Relypsa's stock price down 50% year to date.
Last November, AstraZeneca (AZN) - Get Astrazeneca PLC Sponsored ADR Report paid $2.7 billion to acquire ZS Pharma, developer of a similar drug, which if approved, will also be used to treat hyperkalemia.
The AstraZeneca-ZS Pharma deal is, therefore, an aspirational sales comp for a possible Relypsa takeout. But it's also been a source of frustration because Relypsa's $600 million market valuation going into today was sharply lower than what AstraZeneca paid for ZS Pharma, even though ZS Pharma's drug is still under FDA review.
There were several companies interested in acquiring ZS Pharma at the time AstraZeneca won the bidding. These same companies are now looking at buying Relypsa, although discussions are in early stages and may not lead to a deal, Reuters reported Thursday.
"We don't comment on market speculation," said a Relypsa spokesperson.
What might Relypsa be worth if the company is putting itself up for sale?
An investor I spoke with Thursday, long the stock, values Relypsa at $38 per share, or $1.6 billion, which is essentially a 20% discount to the $2 billion enterprise value of ZS Pharma when it was acquired by AstraZeneca.
"I think $38 is a fair price. You could argue that Veltassa is a better drug [than's ZS Pharma's] but it's conservative not to argue any higher than that," he says.
Relypsa's all-time high was $42 per share in March 2015, but that was before Veltassa was approved and in the middle of the biotech sector valuation bubble which burst last summer.
Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.