A change in its go to market strategy has Clarus Securities analyst Noel Atkinson pulling back on StageZero Life Sciences (StageZero Life Sciences Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:SZLS). Atkinson updated clients on the company on Tuesday, where he dropped his target price from $4.00 to $1.25 and his rating from “Speculative Buy” to “Hold,” saying the stock looks fairly valued at present.
StageZero, whose primary testing laboratory is based in Richmond, Virginia, has cancer and COVID-19 testing services and is commercializing its Aristotle diagnostic platform as a multi-cancer blood test.
The company announced on April 1 a letter of intent to purchase telehealth platform Health Clinics Ltd (HCL) for a price of 15 million SZLS shares and up to $8 million in earn out payments. Health Clinics was founded in London, England, in 2013 and specializes in chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunction and provides telehealth services across Europe and North America.
Following up, StageZero announced on Monday it will launch Aristotle via HCL’s platform and the newly created AVRT clinical program. StageZero is putting a price of $1,500 per test and offering the test, which covers a range of potential cancers for both male and female patients, to HCL’s current US patient base of over 3,000, along with immediate family concerned about their own risk for cancer.
StageZero said it would provide further details on the AVRT program and HCL acquisition in the coming weeks.
“COVID-19 has significantly altered the current healthcare landscape but has positioned us well: it has propelled telehealth to the dominant means by which to work with patients, it is generating good revenue for us – Q3 and Q4 2020 and continuing into Q1 2021, and has allowed us to build out our organization and finance it to market Aristotle,” said James Howard-Tripp, Chairman and CEO of StageZero, in a press release.
In his update, Atkinson said the news represents a pivot in the company’s commercialization strategy for Aristotle, where StageZero had initially said it would launch the testing platform via the self-insured employer market channel with the help of global benefits provider Mercer. The plan had been to have StageZero reach companies, via Mercer’s help, first with its COVID testing program and then use that infrastructure and workflows to transition to Aristotle.
But while the new approach — launching Aristotle within HCL’s network of 3,000+ patients — could be helpful in optimizing the marketing strategies and workflows for Aristotle, Atkinson worries that it keeps StageZero’s focus small and mainly on testing existing cancer patients, which wouldn’t prove that helpful in testing the platform’s capabilities as a broader screening tool.
Atkinson said, “We have no issue with the new market channels that SZLS is pursuing. However, the lesser focus (if not outright halt) of the large employer market removes a channel that we expected to create substantial credibility for Aristotle – and in theory that credibility creation would improve consumer uptake in a DTC campaign.”
“The HLC patient pool is relatively small (3,000 patients plus family members) in comparison to large corporations and government agencies that SZLS and Mercer were supposed to be pursuing. Instead, we now wait to see how SZLS can transition from the initial launch of Aristotle with the existing HLC patient pool to a wider DTC campaign, and how they can drive consumer uptake with DTC customers for a $1,500 test offered by a company with limited public visibility, no reimbursement options, and minimal test performance data beyond the abstract published last May,” Atkinson said.
Additionally, Atkinson said StageZero should be providing further data on the Aristotle patient trials, presented via an abstract in May 2020.
“Potential DTC customers will need to be able to do their own research beyond the general specificity/sensitivity data offered by SZLS to date; ideally this will be similar in depth of content to journal articles recently published on the competing Grail and Thrive pan-cancer liquid biopsy products – it needs to be sufficiently detailed to allow a potential patient to take the materials to their family doctor or oncologist and ask for their professional opinion on whether Aristotle ‘works,’” Atkinson wrote.
StageZero also reported on April 1 its fourth quarter 2020 results, showing revenue of $2.6 million versus Atkinson’s estimate at $2.7 million and an adjusted EBITDA loss of $0.7 million versus the analyst’s forecasted loss of $0.1 million. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)
Atkinson has revised his estimates for SZLS and is now calling for 2021 revenue of $9.4 million (previously $14.2 million) and adjusted EBITDA of negative $3.6 million (previously negative $7.2 million. For 2022, he is calling for revenue of $18.5 million (previously $40.5 million) and adjusted EBITDA of negative $1.0 million (previously $0.2 million).
The analyst said his rating and target have been reduced while he waits to see how the company’s new strategy on Aristotle plays out. At press time, Atkinson’s $1.25 target represented a projected 12-month return of 19 per cent.
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