Akero Therapeutics could be a winner in the race to treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a potentially life-threatening liver disease. Analyst Eliana Merle initiated the clinical-stage company with a buy rating and assigned a price target of $83, implying shares stand to gain 73% in the next 12 months. Akero develops treatments for patients with serious metabolic disease, including a therapy called efruxifermin , which received Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December for the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or Nash. Nash is a severe form of fatty liver disease which can cause inflammation of the liver and fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver. The disease can also lead to cirrhosis, in which the liver is permanently damaged. There is no FDA-approved therapy for the condition, which affects 5% of adults in the U.S. Individuals with Nash are part of the 20% of adults in the U.S. who have NAFLD, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. “We think [efruxifermin] could potentially be the first FGF21 to market, and could have the greatest efficacy among NASH treatments in development,” Merle wrote in a Monday note. “We see FGF21s as a differentiated and promising mechanism for NASH due to the class’s strong anti-fibrotic, liver fat reducing, and systemic metabolic effects.” Nash is an underappreciated market opportunity worth more than $20 billion, she said, adding that the FGF21 class of therapeutics could lead the field in the long term. Akero’s efruxifermin therapy mimics the biological activity profile of FGF21, which is a hormone that alleviates cellular stress and improves metabolic regulation. With the development of this therapy, Merle said Akero is highly likely to have a first-in-class FGF21 in Nash with the second and third stages of fibrosis, and potentially with the fourth stage of cirrhosis as well — even further expanding the use of the therapy. “We think there is a meaningful opportunity in NASH cirrhotics and we think the commercial bar in NASH cirrhosis (F4) is very low given the severity of disease and lack of treatment options,” Merle wrote. AKRO YTD mountain Akero Therapeutics stock. — CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed reporting.