Shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN -0.43%) have climbed 35% so far this year on optimism about its work on treatments for COVID-19. The biotech company is working on two separate projects, both of which are progressing rapidly. Add to that a blockbuster drug for macular degeneration, collaborations on marketed drugs with big pharma companies, and a robust pipeline, and you've got the recipe for a successful biotech company. But is this a millionaire-maker stock? Let's have a closer look.
I'll start with the programs that have put Regeneron in the spotlight recently. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc throughout the world, in part because there are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for it. As of Wednesday, 1.4 million people globally had been confirmed to have contracted the illness.
In February, Regeneron announced an expanded collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop treatments to fight the novel coronavirus. Last month, the company said it had identified "hundreds of virus-neutralizing antibodies" and planned to choose two that could be used in a prevention or treatment product. It expects to produce enough batches of those treatments to start human trials early this summer.
Kevzara for COVID-19
Regeneron's second coronavirus endeavor involves French drugmaker Sanofi (SNY 0.05%). The two have started a phase 2/3 global clinical trial of Kevzara, their rheumatoid arthritis drug, for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. The hope is that Kevzara, which reduces inflammation in arthritis, may also reduce the overactive inflammatory response in COVID-19 patients. Kevzara works by inhibiting the interleukin-6 pathway. Interleukins are a type of protein that regulate inflammatory response. The company expects to enroll 300 patients in the trial.
Beyond its coronavirus work, Regeneron has a dynamic portfolio. The company in 2011 won initial approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Eylea, its treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, a chronic eye disorder that causes blurred vision or blind spots in the central field of vision. The global market for treatments for the disorder, growing at a compound annual rate of 7.1%, is expected to reach $10.4 billion by 2024, according to a report by market researchers Prescient & Strategic Intelligence.
Since the initial approval of Eylea, the FDA has also approved it as a treatment for macular edema (a swelling in the retina) and diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes that can cause blindness). Eylea has become a blockbuster for Regeneron, and sales are still on the rise. In the fourth quarter, net sales in the U.S. totaled $1.2 billion, a 13% increase from the year-earlier period. For the year, Eylea's U.S. net sales gained 14% to $4.6 billion.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Regeneron and Sanofi, which collaborate on several programs, were in the process of restructuring their Kevzara and Praluent agreements to streamline operations. Sanofi recently announced that discussions on those changes are continuing, but final decisions, initially expected to happen in the first quarter, have been delayed because of the companies' work on the Kevzara clinical trial for COVID-19. Investors should take a close look at the terms of the updated agreements once the companies release the information.
Regeneron's other star product is Dupixent, an eczema treatment it shares with Sanofi. Regeneron generated $104 million in profits from the drug in the quarter, as Dupixent's global net sales surged 136% to $752 million. The companies are awaiting an FDA decision on an expanded Dupixent indication in patients ages 6 to 11. Regeneron, which has a pipeline of 29 products, also plans to submit evinacumab, its treatment for homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia -- an inherited condition that causes extremely high cholesterol levels -- for regulatory approval this year.
The revenue picture looks bright for Regeneron as we look ahead to these newer products and indications, and as Eylea's sales continue to grow. A glance into the past shows Regeneron's steady track record of annual revenue increases since the Eylea approval.
Regeneron is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 27, its highest P/E in about two years. But its shares are far less expensive in relation to earnings than they were back in 2015, when their P/E ratio peaked at more than 150. Though Wall Street expects only about 4% upside from here, good news about Regeneron's coronavirus work could push the shares higher quickly.
Is Regeneron a millionaire-maker stock?
Considering all of this, is Regeneron a millionaire-maker stock for the long-term biotech investor? It is impossible to guarantee major growth, but the company does have many of the necessary elements: a strong pipeline, a reliable revenue stream, and a partnership with a big player (Sanofi) concerning a product with solid growth prospects (Dupixent).
Regeneron also has the added plus of working on treatments for COVID-19, which means that instead of declining during this crisis that has hurt so many, Regeneron shares have gained. The risk here is that once the crisis is over, the shares may lose some of those gains. That said, Regeneron's products and revenue should keep most investors believing in its long-term story.