Marijuana Could Treat Autism

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Analysts may be underestimating the potential of GW Pharmaceuticals . Five analysts are covering the company, the most recent initiation coming from Morgan Stanley. The average price target is $86 and the stock currently trades at $71.

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GW Pharmaceuticals is known for its flagship drug Sativex, which combines both the THC and the CBD extracts from the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes. Sativex is delivered as a mouth spray and has been approved for use in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany to name a few. It is considered to be the only mainstream pharmaceutical company to pursue cannabis testing and scientific trials. Solvay Pharmaceuticals produces Marinol, a THC only drug, which is approved by the FDA in the U.S. Solvay has done no studies since 2004.

The analysts are mostly excited about the use of GW's drug Epidiolex for pediatric epilepsy, specifically Dravet Syndrome and the patients that suffer from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. They are fairly small patient populations, roughly 5,000 Dravet patients in the U.S. and 15,000 LGS. However, there is little competition, and the patients' needs are mostly unmet. So GW will own this market.

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The bigger potential market for GW Pharmaceuticals could be autism. PiperJaffrey analyst Josh Schimmer has noted that subsets of these diseases share similar features with epilepsy. He writes, "It's possible that some children have subclinical seizure activity that result in developmental disorders, and there are also extremely exciting anecdotes of autism patients who thrive after CBD therapy." According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5% of the children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ASD as of 2014, a huge patient population.