Decoding Pharma Stocks: Analyzing the Buy Potential of MDGL, MRK, and LLY

Despite the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation for resilience amid economic turbulence, investments in pharmaceutical companies have dipped below historical levels over the past two years.

However, rising U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals, the increasing number of chronic diseases, and robust demand for the latest innovative weight-loss drugs have heightened the industry’s allure among investors. In 2023, the FDA approved almost 50% more novel drugs compared to 2022, restoring approval rates to historical levels.  

Meanwhile, approvals for innovative therapies featuring an active ingredient or molecule not previously sanctioned increased to 55 in 2023, a rise from 37 in 2022 and 51 in 2021. Analysts and investors believe these improvements could potentially trigger increased investments in firms operating in the industry.

Furthermore, the huge demand for the industry’s latest groundbreaking weight loss drug could prove to be highly profitable for the industry in the forthcoming years. Goldman Sachs analysts project that the number of U.S. adults utilizing obesity medications will reach a staggering 15 million by the year 2030.

Given such robust demand, drug-manufacturing companies are racing to enter the lucrative market of widely sought-after weight loss drugs that could accrue a value of tens of billions within a decade.

Buoyed the bright industry prospects, during the fourth quarter of 2023, family offices representing billionaire Waltons and George Soros made their mark in the biotechnology sector, enticed by the growing appeal of drug developers among affluent investors.

Soros Fund Management capitalized on this trend by acquiring a new stake worth $19.20 million in Eli Lilly and Company (LLY) and also made a significant investment of $24.50 million in Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK). Meanwhile, the Walton Investment Team secured a $8.20 million position in Madrigal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (MDGL).

Therefore, let’s analyze why LLY, MRK, and MDGL could be potential buys.

Eli Lilly and Company (LLY)

Boasting a market cap of over $700 billion, pharma giant LLY has captured the spotlight, drawing attention from both retail and institutional investors alike. This fervor stems from the resounding success of its revolutionary weight-loss drugs, Mounjaro and Zepbound.  

Within a year of initiating treatment for obesity, 42.3% of individuals receiving tirzepatide, the key component in Mounjaro and Zepbound, experienced a weight loss of at least 15%. Responding to the high demand for these weight-loss medications, LLY launched its direct-to-consumer (DTC) platform named "LillyDirect" last month.

Through this website, individuals can directly order from the pharmaceutical company, including its weight-loss medication Zepbound, and access connections with telehealth companies for conditions like obesity.

Moreover, the company’s fourth-quarter performance revealed solid growth in both topline and bottom-line figures. Its total revenue reached $9.35 billion, reflecting a 28.1% year-over-year surge.

Notably, revenue from Mounjaro, LLY’s top-selling product, witnessed a staggering 689.9% year-over-year rise, underscoring the solid demand for the drug. Meanwhile, Zepbound, which was launched in November 2023, registered a revenue of $175.80 million.

In light of the overwhelming demand for its weight-loss pipeline, LLY's market capitalization surged, surpassing that of Tesla, Inc. (TSLA), thereby solidifying its position among the top 10 most valuable companies in the S&P 500 Index.

The stock’s relentless success has sparked speculation among analysts about the possibility of it becoming the first biopharmaceutical company to reach a market value of $1 trillion.

Such considerable advances, along with the LLY’s addition to Soro Fund’s equity portfolio, signify a robust endorsement of confidence in the company.

Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK)

With a strong market cap of over $323 billion and a roughly 24% surge in its shares over the past three months, a global healthcare company, MRK offers a diverse range of human health pharmaceutical products spanning oncology, hospital acute care, immunology, neuroscience, virology, cardiovascular, and diabetes.

In its most recent earnings, the company's top-selling cancer drug Keytruda generated a remarkable revenue of $6.61 billion, up 21% year-over-year, while its HPV vaccine Gardasil brought in an impressive $1.87 billion in revenue, reflecting a 27% year-over-year rise.

MRK’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Robert M. Davis, expressed immense satisfaction with the company's performance throughout last year. He highlighted MRK's significant reach, with its medicines impacting over 500 million people. Additionally, the company invested approximately $30 billion in research and development last year to drive forward the discovery and development of impactful innovations in collaboration with others.

With oncology as its primary focus, MRK recently announced its decision to acquire Harpoon Therapeutics, Inc. for an approximate total equity value of $680 million. This strategic move is anticipated to complement MRK’s existing portfolio and drive forward innovative scientific breakthroughs to serve individuals better worldwide battling cancer.

On top of it, the company is actively exploring avenues to diversify its product portfolio and could possibly venture into the burgeoning market of weight-loss drugs.

Its experimental GLP-1 drugs, initially developed to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, have shown unforeseen indications of weight loss. Alongside targeting weight loss, the pharmaceutical company is also pursuing therapies that provide benefits for diabetes and other disorders.

Soros Fund's investment in MRK could bolster the pharma company’s growth strategies and R&D initiative. The investment signals its confidence in MRK’s performance and prospects. Furthermore, MRK's exceptional track record of dividend payouts may infuse more investor confidence in its stock performance.

Madrigal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (MDGL)

MDGL is a pre-revenue clinical-stage pharmaceutical company developing novel drugs to address major unmet needs in cardiovascular, metabolic, and liver diseases. Over the past six months, the stock has jumped over 27%.

The company’s lead compound, resmetirom, is being advanced for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a liver disease that commonly affects people with metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).


MDGL’s positive findings from the Phase 3 MAESTRO-NASH trial last year November demonstrate the potential effectiveness of resmetirom in treating NASH with liver fibrosis, addressing a critical unmet medical need. It is also close to being commercialized. These promising results could not only validate the company's research and development efforts but also have the potential to bolster investor confidence.

MDGL’s latest quarterly report revealed losses of $98.74 million and $5.44 per share, while its research and development expenses rose 3.9% year-over-year. Nevertheless, analysts foresee the company experiencing a final loss in fiscal year 2024 before rebounding with positive profits of $57 million in fiscal year 2025.

Also, as of September 30, 2023, its cash and cash equivalents stood at $62.06 million. However, total operational costs outpaced this liquidity by reaching $263.32 million, of which a significant $201.71 million was research and development expenses.

The company's financial capabilities may hinder certain research initiatives along with corresponding clinical expenses and curtail investment in commercial readiness. This could necessitate fundraising efforts to propel R&D or even propel commercialization strategies for its pharmaceutical product lines.

So, Walton Investment's stake in MDGL serves as a strong endorsement of the pharma giant's potential and growing portfolio. This move undoubtedly bolsters the standing of MDGL’s stocks in the market.

Bottom Line

Overall, the pharmaceutical industry remains dynamic, with companies deftly maneuvering evolving market trends and seizing opportunities for growth and innovations. Thus, investors could consider keeping an eye on the shares of LLY, MRK, and MDGL for potential gains.