Source: Flickr user

Although there's considerable debate as to whether or not buybacks are the best use of a company's cash, they can boost earnings per share, and give a company greater financial flexibility than a quarterly dividend does. Because of that, buyback programs that are underway at the following three companies could lead to investor-friendly upsides.

No. 1: Celgene Corp (NASDAQ:CELG)
Celgene is already the market-leading maker of drugs used to treat multiple myeloma, but it's only recently started to expand into other markets. Because of that, management is eschewing paying a quarterly dividend, and is instead spending money on acquisitions and share repurchases.

In June, Celgene inked a $1 billion collaboration deal with Juno Therapeutics to develop cancer immunotherapies. In July, Celgene agreed to pay $7.1 billion to buy Receptos to get its hands on Receptos' promising multiple sclerosis drug, ozanimod.

Meanwhile, Celgene added $4 billion to the $1.2 billion that still remained in its share-buyback program in June. In the third quarter, the company bought back $815 million of its stock.

Since 2009, Celgene has returned $12.3 billion to investors via buybacks. Celgene has $7.5 billion in cash, and $4.3 billion remaining on its buyback authorization exiting Q3. It appears there's plenty of money kicking around to support its M&A and buyback strategy, and thus deliver on its forecast of at least $13 in EPS in 2020, up from $4.75 this year.

Of course, the vast majority of Celgene's future earnings will come courtesy of its cancer and auto-immune drugs, not its share buybacks, but repurchases could still help Celgene reach its target. For that reason, investors may want to cheer, rather than jeer, Celgene's anti-dividend approach.

Source: Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

No. 2: Mylan (NASDAQ:MYL)
Generic drugmaker Mylan caught flack for pursuing a failed hostile bid to buy competitor Perrigo (NYSE:PRGO) this year, but it's trying to win back investor trust with a $1 billion share-buyback program that it announced earlier this month.

Mylan's repurchase authorization amounts to about 5% of the company's market cap. Although the timing of any buybacks isn't set in stone, and the company doesn't have to buy back any of its shares, the authorization expires next August, and the company is arguably priced attractively at current levels.

Mylan's shares have jumped from below $40 to above $50 in the past month; but even after this run up in share price, the company's share price remains significantly below its 52-week high of $76. As a result, Mylan's shares are trading at an arguably low 10.3 times forward earnings.

Mylan is a global powerhouse in generic drugs, and the company has a deep bench of new generic medicine in the works, including six generic biologics, or biosimilars, including one that's a variation of the mega blockbuster drug Humira. As a result, I think it's got a good shot at continuing to build on its track record of a compounded 27% growth in EPS since 2008. If so, investors might benefit from following in the footsteps of Mylan's board.

No. 3: Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD)
Massively successful new hepatitis C drugs have led to a surge in Gilead Sciences' cash stockpile, and that's given the company plenty of financial firepower to reward investors. In fact, as of earlier this year, Gilead Sciences is the only one of these three companies to boast a massive buyback program and to pay a dividend.

Gilead Sciences announced its staggering $15 billion, five-year buyback program, and instituted its first ever dividend in February at around the same time it completed last year's $5 billion buyback plan sooner than expected.

The company's new $15 billion authorization expires in five years, but Gilead Sciences could end up accelerating that timeline, because in the past two quarters, the company has already spent $4 billion buying back its stock.

The company's market-share leading HIV and Hep C drug-product lineup is kicking out operating cash at a clip of about $4 billion a quarter, and its cash war chest is flush with $25.1 billion in cash, equivalents, and marketable securities. As a result, it wouldn't shock me to see the company maintain its hefty buyback, and boost its dividend payment in the next year. Because of that, Gilead Sciences could be the best of these companies for investors to own.

Todd Campbell owns shares of Celgene, Gilead Sciences, Mylan, and Perrigo Company.  Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene and Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool recommends Juno Therapeutics and Mylan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.