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3 Top Biotech Stocks to Buy in December

By Keith Speights – Updated Dec 1, 2019 at 9:47AM

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These biotech stocks cover all the bases, from great dividends to promising pipelines.

Will biotech stocks have a big year in 2020? I have no idea. But there are three stocks that I expect will deliver great returns over the long run and quite possibly will do so next year.

One's a dividend investor's dream. Another is a clinical-stage biotech that has plenty of big news on the way. And the third is arguably the best biotech stock on the market right now. Which stocks am I referring to? AbbVie (ABBV 1.75%), Axsome Therapeutics (AXSM -0.08%), and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 3.16%).

Three test tubes containing different color fluids

Image source: Getty Images.

1. AbbVie

If you're looking for a stock with an absolutely mouthwatering dividend, look no further than AbbVie. Its dividend currently yields close to 5.4%. And AbbVie has boosted its dividend payout by a whopping 195% since becoming a standalone company in 2013.

No, AbbVie probably won't deliver earth-shattering growth anytime soon. Its top-selling drug, Humira, faces biosimilar competition in Europe already, with biosimilars hitting the U.S. market in 2023. However, AbbVie appears to have a pretty good strategy to reduce its dependence on Humira.

It already has a couple of blood cancer drugs generating strong sales growth with Imbruvica and Venclexta. New immunology drugs Rinvoq and Skyrizi ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on EvaluatePharma's list of the top new drug launches of 2019. AbbVie also thinks Orilissa will become a blockbuster in treating endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

The other key part of AbbVie's strategy to deal with Humira's decline is its pending acquisition of Allergan. This deal brings Allergan's crown jewel, Botox, along with other fast-growing drugs including Vraylar into AbbVie's lineup.

2. Axsome Therapeutics

Clinical-stage biotech stocks admittedly present an especially risky proposition for investors. But I think Axsome Therapeutics is worthy of consideration for those with aggressive investing styles. Axsome has skyrocketed more than 1,200% so far in 2019. To say investors are eagerly anticipating the biotech's upcoming clinical study updates is an understatement.

The company expects to report results from its late-stage study evaluating AXS-05 in treating major depressive disorder (MDD) by the end of 2019. Results from another late-stage study of the drug in treating treatment-resistant depression (TDD) should be announced in the first quarter of 2020. Axsome anticipates providing top-line results from a phase 2/3 study of AXS-05 in treating Alzheimer's disease agitation are anticipated in the first half of 2020. 

Results from a late-stage study of AXS-07 in treating migraine are also expected by the end of this year. The biotech plans on announcing results from yet another late-stage study of AXS-12 in treating narcolepsy by the end of 2019 as well.

If you've been keeping count, that's four late-stage clinical trials for three different drugs plus a midstage study that combined target five indications. Analysts think AXS-05 could achieve peak annual sales of $1 billion or more if approved. Sure, there's a not-so-insignificant risk that Axsome's results could be disappointing. But a couple of key clinical wins could put this biotech on the path to deliver even greater gains.

3. Vertex Pharmaceuticals

It's hard to come up with something not to like about Vertex. The biotech's lineup includes four approved drugs that treat cystic fibrosis (CF). Three of them are already blockbusters.

The only CF drug from Vertex that isn't a blockbuster yet is Trikafta, which won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in October -- several months earlier than expected. It's only a matter of time before the drug eclipses the sales of all of the company's other drugs combined. As Trikafta wins regulatory approvals in other countries, it's expected to expand Vertex's addressable patient population by more than 50%.

Vertex is also looking to move into other indications. It's working with CRISPR Therapeutics on gene-editing therapy CTX001 in treating rare blood diseases beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease. The company has a promising pain program that shouldn't be too far away from advancing to late-stage testing. Vertex also is evaluating candidates in early stage clinical trials targeting rare genetic diseases including alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Thanks to its tremendous success in CF, Vertex has amassed an impressive cash stockpile that it's using to make strategic acquisitions. The company's biggest deal so far is its recent acquisition of Semma Therapeutics for $950 million. Semma has a preclinical program focused on developing a cure for type 1 diabetes. I fully expect Vertex to reign as one of the most successful biotechs of the next decade with its strong CF franchise, promising pipeline, and ample cash to make additional key acquisitions.

Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool owns shares of CRISPR Therapeutics. The Motley Fool recommends Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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