You might think of biotech stocks as risky propositions. And some of them are. But not all of them.

Actually, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, biotechs that are consistently profitable and that sell drugs that patients absolutely must have could be viewed as relatively safe compared to many other stocks on the market. Here are three biotech stocks that I think are great picks to buy right now during the coronavirus crisis.

Scientist holding two test tubes

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Gilead Sciences

Gilead Sciences (GILD 0.91%) has been the focus of a lot of attention worldwide in recent weeks. That's because the company's experimental antiviral drug remdesivir appears to be the most promising treatment for COVID-19. Gilead is conducting late-stage studies of the drug and could report initial results as early as April.

But the potential for remdesivir isn't the main reason to buy Gilead shares. Even though the stock has delivered a solid gain so far in 2020, it still only trades at less than 12 times expected earnings.

The big biotech dominates the HIV market with blockbuster drugs including Biktarvy and Descovy. It's part of a duopoly in treating (and curing) hepatitis C. Gilead ranks as the leader in cancer cell therapy. The company could soon jump into the massive immunology market if it wins approval for filgotinib later this year in treating rheumatoid arthritis. 

And if all of that isn't enough to pique your interest, Gilead is one of the most attractive dividend stocks around. Its dividend yield currently stands at nearly 4%. The company has also increased its dividend by 58% over the last five years.

2. Exelixis

Exelixis (EXEL 0.13%) doesn't have any products in the wings that could help fight the coronavirus. But the biotech stock is certainly more of a bargain because of the viral pandemic. Its shares have dropped more than 30% below highs from earlier this year as the market crashed.

However, Exelixis' revenue shouldn't be impacted much if any by the coronavirus outbreak. The company's top-selling drug, Cabometyx, is used to treat kidney cancer and liver cancer. Cometriq treats medullary thyroid cancer. Are cancer patients going to quit taking these drugs because of the COVID-19 crisis? Of course not.

Actually, it's more likely that a lot more patients will benefit from Exelixis' drugs in the future. The company could win as many as four additional approved indications for Cabometyx by the end of next year.

I wouldn't be surprised if Exelixis takes advantage of the opportunity to put some of its $1.4 billion in cash to use during the market downturn. CEO Michael Morrissey said in the biotech's Q4 conference call that Exelixis is focused on "doing the right deal for the right assets at the right time for the right price." With lots of smaller biotechs reeling from the coronavirus market meltdown, the right time for a deal could be at hand.

3. Vertex Pharmaceuticals

My opinion about Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 0.20%) hasn't changed a bit over the last month of market turmoil. I still think it's one of the best biotech stocks to buy for the next decade.

Vertex essentially owns the market for treating rare genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF). It has four approved CF drugs in the U.S. Three of them are already approved in Europe with the fourth awaiting approval. And that fourth drug, Trikafta, appears likely to become Vertex's biggest seller yet.

Success in CF has enabled Vertex to generate significant profits and amass a sizable cash stockpile. The company has already used some of its cash to bolster its pipeline, acquiring privately held Semma Therapeutics last year for $950 million. This deal enabled Vertex to pick up an experimental drug that holds the potential to cure type 1 diabetes.

Vertex has also built up its internal pipeline and partnered with other biotechs. The most promising candidates in the company's pipeline include CTX001, a gene-editing therapy targeting rare blood diseases beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease that Vertex partnered with CRSPR Therapeutics to develop, and VX-814, which targets rare genetic disease alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD).