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Good morning, fellow Foolish investors! Let's take a closer look at four stocks which could loom large in health care headlines this morning: Nestlé (NASDAQOTH: NSRGY ) , Cellular Dynamics (NASDAQ: ICEL ) , AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN ) , and ArthroCare (NASDAQ: ARTC ) .
Nestlé buys... brain and liver cells?
Our first story today involves Nestlé, the Swiss company which is commonly associated with snacks and drinks.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nestlé is working out a surprising deal with Cellular Dynamics International to obtain stem cell-like brain and liver cells. This unusual partnership is aimed at helping Nestlé develop nutritionally enhanced drinks and other food products with medical benefits.
Nestlé's decision to develop healthier products comes at a time when packaged and processed foods from industry peers like General Mills, Kraft, and Mondelez are being scrutinized by health advocates. Nestlé's rival Danone also made a big move into the medically enhanced products industry in 2007 by acquiring baby food and nutritional products company Numico for $16.7 billion.
According to Euromonitor International, the global market for health and wellness food and beverages is expected to grow from $772 billion in 2013 and $944 billion by 2018. Sales of these items is forecast to grow 22% over that period, outpacing sales of conventional packaged foods by 50%.
The deal is also a highly unusual one for Cellular Dynamics, which usually provides its cell samples to pharmaceutical companies for drug development. The company, which made its market debut in July 2013, has been growing rapidly.
Last quarter, Cellular Dynamics' revenue rose 105% year-over-year, although it remains unprofitable. The company's two top selling products are its iCell Cardiomyocytes (cardiac stem cells) and iCell Neurons.
The new deal with Nestlé opens the door to other intriguing deals outside of the pharmaceuticals industry. If other large packaged food companies follow Nestlé's example, the company's revenue could surge.
However, investors shouldn't get overly excited yet -- the financial terms of the deal have not yet been announced.
AstraZeneca signs an immunotherapy deal with Immunocore
Meanwhile, British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit signed a deal with private biotech company Immunocore today. AstraZeneca is paying Immunocore an upfront payment of $20 million per program, additional payments worth up to $300 million, as well as additional royalties.
The deal adds a technology known as ImmTAC (Immune Mobilizing Monoclonal T-Cell Receptor Against Cancer) to AstraZeneca's growing oncology portfolio. ImmTAC is a type of immunotherapy treatment -- a newer kind of cancer treatment which attempts to assist the body's own immune system in destroying cancerous cells.
This deal is significant to AstraZeneca because it reflects CEO Pascal Soriot's efforts to better position the company as a contender in oncology. In the past, AstraZeneca's top line growth was mainly fueled by three drugs -- the antipsychotic drug Seroquel, the cholesterol drug Crestor, and the acid reflux treatment Nexium.
However, the instant release (IR) version of Seroquel already faces generic competition, Crestor's main patent will expire in 2016, and Nexium's patent expires in 2014. Together, these drugs (including Seroquel XR) generated $13 billion in revenue for the company in 2012, accounting for 46% of the company's top line.
To deal with these upcoming losses, AstraZeneca has signed several deals to expose its pipeline to some of the most promising cancer treatments, such as Probiodrug's cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) inhibitors and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) from Spirogen and ADC Therapeutics. With the Immunocore deal, AstraZeneca now has improved access to immunotherapy technology.
While these deals are promising, AstraZeneca still trails behind oncology leader Roche, as well as other leading companies in immunotherapies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck.
ArthroCare agrees to pay $30 million to settle fraud charges
Last but not least, medical device maker ArthroCare rallied after hours yesterday after the company signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve allegations of fraud committed by the company's previous management team.
The six-year-old investigation centered on former CEO Michael Baker and ex-CFO Michael Gluk's alleged $400 million scheme to defraud investors by inflating the company's earnings. DOJ prosecutors claimed that ArthroCare did this by shipping extra products to its distributors at the end of each quarter, although they were not actual orders, so that the shipments could be counted as sales to meet forecasts.
Yesterday, ArthroCare agreed to pay a $30 million fine and maintain a compliance program over a 24-month period. As a result, the company can avoid criminal charges by fulfilling conditions which can lead to the dismissal of the case.
ArthroCare manufactures surgical devices, instruments, and implants. It also manufactures surgical devices for minimally invasive procedures. Last quarter, the company's earnings and revenue respectively rose 2.9% and 5.7%.
Investors haven't been terribly concerned about the ongoing investigation, since the stock has rallied 14% over the past 12 months. However, an end to the fraud investigation will lift a considerable weight off of the stock.
Some analysts believe that this development could also clear the way for an acquisition by a larger medical device company, such as Stryker or Johnson & Johnson.
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