The number of patients with this chronic liver disease, which can lead to permanent liver scarring, eclipses that of hepatitis C in the U.S., RBC’s Yee said. While a significant number aren’t diagnosed, “we believe, based on survey work, that there are hundreds of thousands of patients with diagnosed NASH,” and that the global market for NASH drugs may reach $5 billion to $10 billion, he said. The disease’s prevalence may be growing along with obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Companies working in NASH include Gilead, Intercept and Genfit. Intercept shares tumbled Friday after a study of its drug obeticholic acid, or OCA, was published in The Lancet. While analysts were largely unsurprised by the data, which showed the drug met study goals, they noted concern over a side effect of itchiness and the drug’s effect on LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
Read MoreThe next Hepatitis C? NASH
The “overall publication is fine describing how it has positive effects on histology of NASH patients, but perhaps not surprising, in our view, given a need to be balanced for peer physicians, has some cautious/conservative comments and suggests a general need for more long-term efficacy and safety data, which is known,” Yee wrote in a research note.
But the AASLD meeting may perhaps be most helpful for gaining a sense of regulatory requirements—what the Food and Drug Administration will look for in order to approve a drug, Skorney said.
“Liver diseases on the whole, beyond hepatitis C, are a very significant commercial opportunity,” Skorney said. “While hepatitis C, I would argue, remains the focus because it’s so commercially near-term and we’re seeing massive sales figures, people are looking to the future to say, ‘Hey, is there anything else beyond hepatitis C?'”