Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) investors who were patient in February when the company's year-end numbers were down slightly were rewarded late last month when the Thousand Oaks, Calif., biotech giant's first-quarter 2020 results came out.

Revenue and non-GAAP net income were up 11% compared with the same quarter last year. The company's biggest riser was psoriasis drug Otezla, which had $479 million in sales in its first year since the company bought it for $13.4 billion from Celgene.  Another relatively new income driver is Evenity, used to fight osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. In the first quarter, its sales grew by 18% over the fourth quarter, bringing in $100 million in revenue.

Most of the company's old standbys continue to bring in strong sales, led by anti-inflammatory drug Enbrel with $1.15 billion. Prolia, a treatment for osteoporosis, saw an increase of 10% compared with the prior year, to $654 million in sales. 

Glass jars with coins.


A company reaching middle age in great shape

Founded in 1980, Amgen turns 40 this year, making it one of the oldest biotech companies around. Instead of winding down, though, Amgen's pipeline is more vibrant than ever, with 39 drugs in phase 1, 2, and 3 trials. Otezla just saw positive results from its phase 3 clinical trial for plaque psoriasis, and the company plans to test the drug for possible use on COVID-19 patients. 

Amgen recently got two bits of good news. On Friday, the FDA fast-tracked omecamtiv mecarbil, a drug used to help patients who have had heart failure by treating muscle debilitation. It's a drug that Amgen has been working on with California-based biopharma Cytokinetics (NASDAQ:CYTK). The drug is in a phase 3 trial. A few days before that, Amgen won a federal court ruling in its Kyprolis patent infringement case against Cipla Ltd., an Indian multinational. The ruling will likely keep Kyprolis, a cancer drug, free from generic competition until 2027. That's not a small matter: Amgen made $280 million in sales from Kyprolis in just the first quarter. 

Amgen is prepared to ride the wave of biosimilars

The biosimilars market is expected to exceed $69 billion within the next five years.  There's a simple reason for that. Insurers are looking to bring healthcare costs down and generics and biosimilars can help make that happen. It is estimated that biosimilars could save consumers $160 billion within the next five years. 

While Amgen has tried to fight off other companies' biosimilars, it's already a major player in the space. In 2017, the company's Mvasi was the first cancer-fighting biosimilar to be approved by the FDA; of the 10 biosimilars in Amgen's current pipeline, four have FDA approval.

Then there's the Amgen dividend

Amgen has a solid dividend, with a yield of 2.73% compared with the S&P's average of 2%. The company was the first biotech to offer a dividend, in 2011, and has raised it every year since then, including this year's bump to $1.60 per share. The dividend's growth rate over the past five years is 18.7%, which puts it above most biotech competitors. 

Its payout ratio of 43.18% shows the company can afford the dividend without eating into growth.

But there's the question of price

If you had bought Amgen stock in mid-March, when it cost $182.24 and  everyone else was selling equities, you would be sitting pretty today. At Monday's close, Amgen was at $242.74, just a bit off the 52-week high of $244.79 it set just before Christmas.

However, if you didn't buy it then, don't fret. The company's first-quarter numbers indicate there's a solid chance it will break through resistance because of its good sales momentum. For long-term healthcare investors, the company's strong record, emerging pipeline, and hefty dividend will continue to make it a good buy.

The emphasis is on "long-term," however. The COVID-19 pandemic could slow sales, at least in the short term. Buying at this price, even with a decent price-to-earnings ratio of 15, may mean sitting on the stock for five months before it begins to take off again.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.