Roth starts Conatus Pharma at buy; PT $20

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Roth Capital Partners launched coverage of Conatus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:CNAT) with a "buy" rating and $20 price target. The stock closed at $5.04 on Feb. 7.

Conatus is a leader in the pan-caspase inhibitor therapeutic area. Caspases are a family of related enzymes that are involved in the execution of apoptosis (cell death) and the inflammatory response with dysregulation of apoptosis playing a role in the pathogenesis of liver disease. 

Analyst Yasmeen Rahimi writes that lead compound, emricasan, has been tested in 650 patients across eight Phase 2 studies and eight Phase 1 studies, "thereby amassing a robust efficacy and safety database, which we expect to be further strengthened by the four ongoing Phase 2b studies to collectively enroll another 860 patients."

From the completed studies, she said emricasan has consistently shown robust decreases in biomarkers that either indicated liver function and damage improvement, measured by hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG) or liver transaminase levels, or improvement in MELD score, which would suggest improvement in survival prognosis and need for liver transplant.