Exelixis (NASDAQ:EXEL) is without question one of the hottest biotech stocks on the market. We're talking about a stock that has more than tripled in value in just the last 12 months and has soared over 70% so far this year. Exelixis is, simply put, a fantastic growth stock.
But Wall Street thinks Incyte (NASDAQ:INCY) is an even better growth stock. Analysts project faster earnings growth over the next few years for Incyte and think the stock price will increase more in the next year than Exelixis' share price will.
Is Wall Street right that Incyte is a better growth stock than Exelixis? Here are two reasons why the answer is "yes" -- and one why the experts could be wrong.
Better potential for a spark
Think about a pile of wood that's already burning fiercely and another that's dry but with a smaller flame burning. That's a pretty good analogy of where Exelixis and Incyte are right now.
Exelixis' momentum has been ginormous since the middle of last year. However, there's a good case to be made that Exelixis has less fuel to add to the fire than Incyte does now. Can Exelixis stock really keep rising at the pace it has over the past 12 months? It's highly doubtful.
Sure -- Exelixis does have another potential catalyst coming later this year when it announces the results from the Celestial late-stage study of Cabometyx in treating advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, I suspect that expectations for positive results from this study are already baked into the share price to some extent.
While Exelixis has enjoyed nothing but good news lately (and its stock price reflects this), Incyte and partner Lilly (NYSE:LLY) suffered a blow with the Food and Drug Administration's failure to approve baricitinib as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Any good news for Incyte could be the spark that sends the biotech's shares higher.
Exelixis' pipeline includes cabozantinib (sold for approved indications under two brand names -- Cabometyx and Cometriq), Cotellic, and XL888. That's three candidates, of which cabozantinib has by far the most promising prospects.
Then there's Incyte's pipeline. Jakafi is already successful as a treatment for myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera. Incyte and partner Novartis (NYSE:NVS) are also evaluating the drug in a late-stage study in treating acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and has other studies in progress exploring additional indications.
Another crown jewel in Incyte's pipeline is epacadostat. The drug is in a late-stage study in combination with Merck's Keytruda targeting treatment of melanoma. There are also four other studies underway for the epacadostat/Keytruda combo in treating other types of cancer as well as a couple of studies with epacadostat and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo. If approved, epacadostat could reach peak annual sales of $1.6 billion.
Baricitinib could still win approval in the U.S., although it's possible that Lilly will need to conduct another clinical study to convince the FDA of its safety. Incyte also is partnering with Novartis on experimental cancer drug capmatinib. In addition, the biotech has more than a dozen other candidates in development.
Worse buyout prospects
The one area where I think Exelixis might have the advantage over Incyte, however, is in the possibility of becoming an acquisition target. Granted, Incyte has been a much-discussed takeover target on its own. However, I think Exelixis could be a better acquisition prospect.
My main reason for thinking this way boils down to valuation. Exelixis' market cap is around $7.7 billion. Incyte's market cap is close to $26.8 billion -- more than three times higher. It's a lot easier for a big company to buy a biotech the size of Exelixis than it is to buy a biotech the size of Incyte.
A year ago, like many others, I thought that Gilead Sciences might buy Incyte. I'm increasingly doubtful that will happen. Others could step up to the table, but I'm not holding my breath.
Can Exelixis stock go higher without a buyout happening? Absolutely. Still, though, I think that Incyte could be the bigger growth story over the next couple of years.