Pacific Trader: NervGen Pharma lofts a moonshot for people with spinal cord injuries

Vancouver-based NervGen Pharma thinks it can help revive nerves damaged by trauma, stroke, Alzheimer’s and MS

The stock: For Dr. Harold Punnett, it was personal. In 2016, his daughter-in-law, Codi Darnell, broke her back and lost feeling in her legs, becoming a paraplegic. Punnett, a dental surgeon and angel investor based in Fort Langley, scoured medical literature for any hint of a possible cure. It led him to the research of Dr. Jerry Silver, a professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Silver’s work in part explained how nerves react after trauma and identified the chemical agents in place that appear to inhibit regeneration. Coming up with a drug that might block those agents and allow damaged nerves to repair themselves became the mission of the company Punnett co-founded, NervGen Pharma Corp. (TSXV:NGEN).

The drivers: Vancouver-based NervGen is a very long shot to develop a drug that could potentially benefit millions of patients with spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke and more. Its lead candidate, NVG-291, a cell-penetrating peptide, has demonstrated improvement in lab rats. The tiny subjects evidenced better bladder control and in some cases mobility compared to a control group. Now NVG-291 is the subject of a Phase 1b/2a clinical trial initiated in 2023 on people who have sustained spinal cord injuries.

Having such a high-risk, high-return business model makes NervGen shares very hard to evaluate, but that of course hasn’t stopped the market from trying. Since its debut in 2019, the stock is up 66 percent, with virtually all of that gain coming in the past year. It’s risen 17 percent so far in 2024, with significant ups and downs along the way. NGEN closed at $2.89 on Tuesday (July 2).

Word on the street: Raymond James analyst Rahul Sarugaser described the company as “a moonshot” and its drug candidate as “a potential game-changer” upon initiating coverage of NervGen last week with a “market perform” rating and $3 price target. “Given the higher-than-average risk associated with developing a drug for spinal cord injury, we remain conservative in our assumptions of clinical success until we see a clear clinical signal,” he wrote. Should the trial prove successful and proceed to Phases 2 and 3 by 2027, he sees an upside of up to $29 a share.

Coming and going: Kelowna-headquartered Fission Uranium Corp. (TSX:FCU) has agreed to a takeover by Paladin Energy of Australia for the equivalent of $1.1 billion in shares or $1.30 per FCU share. The company’s main asset is the Patterson Lake South exploration property in Saskatchewan. FCU shares were trading at $1.18 as of this week, indicating investors are not entirely confident the deal will go through.