With the invasion of Ukraine wreaking havoc on global commodity prices, the future's cloudier than ever. If you're worried that a recession could end up dragging down your portfolio, you might want to take a look at a biotech stock that could keep climbing in just about any economic environment.
There are a lot of good reasons to buy Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX -0.20%) now and hold on to the stock for the long run. Here are three of the biggest ones.
1. An unstoppable cystic fibrosis franchise
About 10 years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Kalydeco from Vertex for the treatment of some patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Kalydeco was the first CF treatment aimed at the disorder's root cause, a protein responsible for balancing the concentration of salt and water in our airways.
Kalydeco turned a death sentence into a treatable condition, but it only gets the job done for a fraction of an estimated 83,000 people around the world living with CF. Vertex's top drug right now, Trikafta, contains Kalydeco's active ingredient plus two new ones to treat the vast majority of CF patients, and there still aren't any competitive threats on the horizon.
Last year, CF sales soared 22% to $7.6 billion, and they aren't finished climbing. The key patents protecting Trikafta's market exclusivity are good until at least 2037.
2. A promising pipeline
Over the years, Vertex has plowed CF franchise profits into the development of potential new drugs, and its research engine is producing results. At the end of March, Vertex shares jumped in response to compelling results from a human proof-of-concept trial with an experimental pain reliever tentatively named VX-548. This is a non-opioid tablet for pain relief that could be worth billions in annual revenue.
VX-548 is a potential first-in-class inhibitor of NaV 1.8, a protein on the surface of nerve cells that is partly responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain. A dose of VX-548 appears to throw a monkey wrench into the pain transmission signal chain. In a trial with patients who had a tummy tuck or bunion surgery, treatment with VX-548 led to significant pain reductions. It even outperformed Vicodin, an addictive opioid often prescribed following surgeries.
3. A permanent fix for early onset diabetes
For around 1.6 million Americans with early onset or type 1 diabetes, damaged islet cells in their pancreas don't release insulin after they eat, as the cells should. Vertex is working on an off-the-shelf stem cell therapy designed to replace those damaged islet cells called VX-880.
In October, we got to see interim results from the first patient treated with half the target dose of VX-880. The trial's investigators said this patient, who couldn't make their own insulin before the trial began, was producing enough to lower their reliance on insulin injections from 34 units per day at the beginning of the study down to just 2.9 units per day after treatment.
Vertex is the first to get an off-the-shelf islet cell replacement therapy to work for a clinical trial participant, but it's going to be a long time before the general public gets to try it. That's because chronic immunosuppressive therapy is required to keep the immune system from attacking those new insulin-producing cells. All that immunosuppression could cause more problems than VX-880 solves.
If Vertex can tweak the formula in a way that reduces reliance on immunosuppression, VX-880 could begin generating over $1 billion in annual sales a couple of years after its launch. There are no guarantees that this, or any of Vertex's candidates, will become blockbuster drugs. Given the company's successful track record, though, the chances seem much better than average.