I spotted an interesting article in Time Magazine this week that reminded me of an emerging Nasdaq listed company which has been getting a great deal of attention lately. The article spotlights a new study that suggests that eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids - from fish or krill oil, for example, may help stave off Alzheimer's disease.
If you happen to pull out a krill oil product from the shelf during a visit to your neighborhood health food store, chances are that you will stumble upon the NKO label on it.
The omnipresent NKO (Neptune Krill Oil) label is a strong statement in terms of krill oil quality, something which makes the brand's owner and the leading manufacturer of krill oils - Neptune Technologies & Bioresources (NEPT) - extremely proud.
In fact, NEPT's Vice President for Scientific Affairs, Dr. Wael Massrieh, in a recent interview, could not stop singing praises about the company, underscoring the fact that it is striking the right notes - both in terms of its business and the science underlying that business.
Krill oil was initially used as an animal feed and for aquaculture. However, NEPT ventured into the virgin territory of harnessing krill oil for enhancing human health. In case you have missed the buzz surrounding the health benefits of krill oils - by dodging a slew of infomercials on the telly - it's time you were initiated. Krill oil is considered to be the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, which enhance cardiovascular health by reducing triglycerides, reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol).
Additionally, studies conducted by NEPT indicate that krill oil can enhance concentration levels, focus and planning skills in patients suffering from developmental disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Krill oil can also work wonders on osteoarthritic patients - helping to alleviate pain, stiffness and impairment of joints. Well, the promise doesn't end there. A study indicated that krill oil decreased physical and emotional upheaval experienced by PMSing women. To provide the icing on the cake, compared to other krill oils, NEPT's NKO absolutely nails the issue against its competition since it also provides a class of phospholipids called PhosphatidylCholine, which is important for neuro-transmission between synapses and the brain.
Looking for signs that Omega 3s may help against brain decline, researchers took blood samples from the participants to test for levels of beta amyloid, a protein found in the amyloid plaques in the brain that are a telltale sign of Alzheimer's disease. They found that the more omega-3s a person consumed, the lower their blood levels of beta amyloid.
A cursory glance at how NEPT built its market-leading position in krill oils and its future business plans provides interesting insights. Nurturing a fairly distant dream of shining under the arc lights as a company successfully marketing pharmaceutical grade krill oil, NEPT started off humbly by building its krill-oil derived dietary supplements business brick-by-brick. Currently, the cash generated by the dietary supplements business continues to feed the company's rising pharmaceutical aspirations. The market dominance and success of NEPT's krill oils based dietary supplements business is expected to culminate in the doubling of its krill oil capacity to 300 metric tons by 2012. The planned expansion - which is 30% complete - will empower NEPT to double its revenues within a short span.
With regard to its pharmaceuticals business, unlike a typical biotechnology company which endeavors to prove the effectiveness of its nascent pipeline, NEPT is quite ahead of the curve since it currently generates positive cash flows and possesses a pipeline that has demonstrated a strong efficacy profile in pre-clinical studies. The company's 57%-owned subsidiary, Acasti is engaged in conducting research on a krill oil based pharmaceutical drug, CaPre, for treating heart ailments.
Although Acasti is currently only listed in Canada, US investors can benefit by piggybacking on NEPT's majority stake in the subsidiary. NEPT is willing to patiently hold Acasti's hand until clinical data on CaPre emerges. Once the clinical data is released - and assuming it is positive - NEPT can proceed with its plans of providing eager US investors direct access to the evolving Acasti story through a US listing. Going by the Wall Street grapevine, the clinical data appears to be very impressive indeed, which should optimize the returns to NEPT from the planned Acasti spin-off. Pre-clinical studies have firmly established the superiority of CaPre over GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Lovaza in reducing triglycerides. Critically, the fact that Dr. Harlan Waksal - the co-founder and former Chief Operating Officer of ImClone Systems - was prompted to shun his rocking chair post-retirement to take charge of Acasti speaks volumes about the preliminary body of evidence supporting CaPre.
Recently, analysts on Wall Street took note that privately held Omthera Pharmaceuticals disclosed positive top-line data from its EVOLVE (EpanoVa fOr Lowering Very High triglyceridEs) clinical study for Epanova, the company's lead compound for the treatment of patients with very high triglycerides. Epanova is a ultra-pure mixture of free fatty acids EPA and DHA and Amarin's (AMRN) AMR101 is a omega-3 fatty acid, comprising ~96% ultra-pure EPA. Both drugs lower lipids and both target the large hypertriglyceridemia market. Krill oil based CaPre not only seems to decrease triglycerides, but also appears to reduce LDL and to increase HDL (good cholesterol). Meanwhile, although Omthera officials reported positive outcomes today on lowering triglycerides, they did not disclose any data particularly related to LDL and that met with some skepticism from observers watching this space.
Just as NEPT has tapped the mega bucks potential of Acasti, it now intends to unlock value from another potential golden egg in its basket - its wholly-owned subsidiary, NeuroBioPharm, which is engaged in developing treatments for ailments that impact the brain. NEPT intends to offload 10% stake in NeuroBioPharm in a couple of months by mimicking the strategy it implemented to unlock value from Acasti.
Mr. Massrieh indicated that NEPT's immense value proposition can be gauged from the fact that the company's pharmaceutical grade krill oil products encompass three distinct, yet significant markets: the statins market worth an eye-popping US$35 billion, the 'good cholesterol' drug market currently served by Abbott Laboratories' US$2 billion blockbuster - Niaspan and the 'fish oil' drugs market - characterized by GlaxoSmithKline's Lovaza and Amarin's challenger, AMR-101. That's a broad canvass, to say the least.
The company seems to be making all the right noises. It's time investors listen. And reciprocate. The risks here are very small when one considers that a bet on NEPT includes a bet on two other companies as well: Acasti (already public in Canada) and NeuroBioPharm (which NEPT shareholders will get a share dividend in according to Massrieh). In addition, NEPT earnings will be announced soon and they should blow away analyst estimates based on increased production and the new partnership/distribution opportunities which have been announced and are now starting to be monetized. In my view, given all the upside here NEPT is a no-brainer, particularly at these prices and especially given what I saw happen to AMRN in the last year.
Disclosure: I am long AMRN.