As a whole host of its Pharmaceutical peers struggle to come to terms with patent expiries and generic competition, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) seems to be going from strength to strength.
Indeed, were it not for the ongoing bribery allegations in China pulling shares back over the past year, their outperformance of the S&P could have been even greater. As it was, shares in GlaxoSmithKline have posted gains of 24% over the past 12 months, while the S&P is not too far behind on 22%.
The story in 2014 has been slightly better for investors in GlaxoSmithKline, though, since its shares are up over 5% and the S&P 500 is struggling to make any gains, being flat so far. Can GlaxoSmithKline keep ahead of the S&P 500 and even extend its lead in 2014?
Upbeat news flow
Recent news flow for GlaxoSmithKline has been positive, with the company receiving positive opinions recommending marketing authorization from the European Medicine Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, or the EMA's CHMP. The two opinions relate to the same condition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with the first being a once-daily, maintenance treatment for the disease called Incruse, while the second is a once-daily, maintenance bronchodilator treatment for the symptoms called Anoro.
GlaxoSmithKline expects the final decision regarding marketing authorization in the next few months, and it looks likely (although not definite) that it will be granted, since positive opinions by the CHMP are usually followed by approval.
In addition to recent positive news flow, GlaxoSmithKline also reported a strong set of annual results. They showed that core earnings per share increased by 4% in 2013, while the company continues to deliver a highly impressive performance with regard to its pipeline. Indeed, of the six drugs that GlaxoSmithKline highlighted as key drivers of growth at the start of 2013, five were approved and the sixth, albiglutide (used to treat type 2 diabetes), received a positive opinion from the EMA's CHMP.
This pipeline strength and the impressive volume of new approvals provides evidence as to why GlaxoSmithKline has been able to cope with patent expiry and generic competition much better than many of its Pharmaceutical peers.
Of course, its peers are also experiencing positive news flow, too. For instance, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) has had a successful first year as an independent company, with it announcing the completion of its phase 3 hepatitis C virus, or HCV, studies on Jan. 31. The news was positive, with patients enrolled in the trials sustaining relatively high responses to treatments.
In addition, AbbVie also announced positive top-line phase 3 HCV results from the SAPPHIRE-I and SAPPHIRE-II studies during the fourth quarter of 2013, as well as the initiation of two further phase 3 trials, which highlights the potential the company has in its mid- and late-stage pipeline assets.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) is fast coming to terms with its patent cliff. It has made a number of acquisitions, including the notable deal to purchase Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE:BMY) share of its diabetes alliance for $2.7 billion. It also has the financial firepower (through having only a moderate level of debt -- the company's debt-to-equity ratio is just 44%) to make further acquisitions and also to reinvest in the business to improve the strength of its pipeline.
So with recent results highlighting the strength of its pipeline, GlaxoSmithKline looks all set to have another strong year in 2014. With updates regarding marketing authorization for multiple drugs due in the next few months, shares could continue to outperform the S&P 500 through 2014 and deliver another great year for shareholders.
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Peter Stephens owns shares of AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.