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3 Top Biotech Stocks to Buy on Sale

By George Budwell - Dec 13, 2016 at 5:43PM

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Amgen, Biogen, and Gilead Sciences haven't had the best 2016. But savvy investors may want to take advantage of the recent weakness in these top biotech stocks to buy shares. Here's why.

Despite the turmoil caused by the U.S. presidential election this year, biotech stocks still sport some of the richest valuations in the market. Even so, there are a handful of compelling bargains within this highly coveted space that are worth checking out right now.

The biotech blue bloods Amgen (AMGN -0.18%), Biogen (BIIB -1.02%), and Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.27%), for instance, are all trading well below their 52-week highs, perhaps creating a golden opportunity to buy these top stocks at a discount. Let's dig deeper to find out.

Image source: Getty Images.

Amgen is a rock-solid biotech to own for the long haul

Amgen's shares have underwhelmed this year because of a couple of interrelated issues. The first headwind is that the biotech's traditional growth drivers, such as the anemia medication Epogen and the white blood cell boosters Neupogen and Neulasta, have been getting hammered in recent quarters because of greater competition.

Amgen, in turn, has been forced to rely on controversial price increases to offset the lower sales volume for these key drugs and pivot more toward unproven early commercial-stage drugs -- like the cholesterol-lowering product Repatha -- to drive growth.

Unfortunately, payers have yet to warm up to Repatha from a coverage standpoint as a result of the still-unresolved relationship between lowering bad cholesterol levels and adverse cardiovascular outcomes. The net result is that a large number of patients have been denied coverage since the drug's initial launch in August 2015, according to the drugmaker.   

This situation could shift dramatically in favor of broader coverage for Repatha in 2017, however. In short, Amgen unveiled imaging data last month showing a significant reduction in atherosclerosis in patients with coronary artery disease receiving both Repatha and optimized statin therapy.

To push the drug over the goal line, though, Repatha needs to produce similar results in its ongoing cardiovascular outcomes trial known as Fourier that's scheduled to read out in the first quarter of next year. But a favorable outcome does appear likely in this case based on the aforementioned imaging results, which clearly support Repatha's proposed cardiovascular benefit in patients with advanced forms of heart disease.  

In all, Amgen seems to have a winner on its hands with Repatha, which should help the biotech push past the problems plaguing its legacy product line at the moment.  

Biogen is set to return to high single-digit growth

This year, Biogen has been dealing with a rapidly changing marketplace for its core multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs, causing the U.S. sales of its flagship MS product Tecfidera to drop off in a big way. As a result, the biotech's top-line growth is expected to dip next year to a mediocre 4.4%, perhaps necessitating more politically charged price increases across its MS drug portfolio.

The bright side, however, is that Biogen and its partner Ionis Pharmaceuticals have a fairly good shot at grabbing broad regulatory approval for their experimental spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug Spinraza (nusinersen) in early 2017. If true, Biogen's top-line growth should exceed 8% over the next five years running, putting it back into the ranks of elite biotech growth stocks. 

As both a backstop against an unfavorable regulatory outcome for Spinraza and as a means to create deep value for shareholders, Biogen also has the ammo to pursue additional licensing deals or another tuck-in acquisition next year. The biotech, after all, should exit 2016 with over $5 billion in cash and cash equivalents. 

Gilead Sciences is down but not out

Gilead Sciences' 2016 has been pockmarked by multiple clinical failures and a cliff-diving top line. The short story is that the biotech's management has retained an odd confidence in the company's clinical activities as a means to offset the falling sales of its flagship hepatitis C franchise, sparking a widespread shareholder exodus this year.

Image source: Gilead Sciences.

After all, the biotech's clinical setbacks include lowlights such as the once-promising cancer drug Zydelig being sidelined by serious safety issues; the experimental ulcerative colitis medicine GS-5745 crashing and burning in its combined Phase 2/3 study; and momelotinib producing weak efficacy results in its two Phase 3 trials for myelofibrosis.

The overall effect is that Gilead's pipeline doesn't have a clear path to producing another franchise-level drug until filgotinib -- a drug it licensed from the Belgian biotech Galapagos NV -- starts producing top-line results in late 2019 as a treatment for a variety of inflammatory diseases.

The silver lining is that Gilead has continued to generate enormous free cash flows this year, resulting in the biotech's amassing an outstanding $31.6 billion of cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities at the end of Q3. 

In other words, Gilead does have the means to stop the bleeding in the blink of an eye based on its jaw-dropping cash position, making it a great stock to consider buying at these discounted levels. 

George Budwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Biogen, Gilead Sciences, and Ionis Pharmaceuticals. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.

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Stocks Mentioned

Amgen Inc. Stock Quote
Amgen Inc.
$250.76 (-0.18%) $0.45
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
$66.15 (-0.27%) $0.18
Biogen Inc. Stock Quote
Biogen Inc.
$217.39 (-1.02%) $-2.25

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