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3 Biotechs that Could Snap Back and Soar Even Higher

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Buying biotechs may seem like jumping without a net these days, but our contributors pinpoint three stocks packing plenty of snap back potential.

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Yikes! A few weeks into February, and the indiscriminate sell-off in biotech just keeps getting more unnerving.   

But here's the good news. With virtually ever biotech getting dinged, there's growing upside for investors able to discern the value from the junk in the sector. While a bigger drop could certainly be ahead, a lot of the downside risk is likely baked in for companies with big catalysts ahead.

But what about all the political posturing about drug pricing? Won't that continue to weigh? Here's what the market is missing: Proposals to cut drug pricing have been discussed for many years, and the chances of changes materializing in the coming years are slim. In addition, recent high-profile concerns have focused on the pricing for older pharmaceutical drugs -- not the kind of breakthrough treatments many biotechs are pursuing.  

Biotech stocks are not for the risk-averse, however, since they drop or pop on a whisper. But maintaining a small position in a few well-chosen biotechs also adds a lot more potential upside to a well diversified portfolio. With that in mind, three of our contributors pinpoint stocks that could help boost your portfolio through 2016 and beyond.

Selena Maranjian: One biotech stock that seems quite likely to snap back from its recent slump is Celgene Corporation (CELG). The stock was recently down more than 17% over the past 12 months -- in part due to a disappointing quarter -- but it has been a very strong long-term performer, leading to a market cap that recently topped $75 billion. It seems very likely to keep growing because it already has successful drugs on the market and, more importantly, it boasts a promising pipeline of drugs in development as well as plans to gain additional approvals for existing blockbuster drugs.

That last aim is a powerful way both to boost earnings and to prolong patent protection. Celgene's current big sellers include Revlimid, Pomalyst, and Otezla, which together generated $9.2 billion in 2015, with $10.5 billion expected in 2016. Thanks to the company's purchase of Receptos last year, it stands to possibly rake in even more eventually from the immunotherapy drug ozanimod. The rest of its pipeline is promising, too, addressing anemia, solid tumors, inflammation, and immunology, among other things. Celgene has also partnered with many other drug developers, giving it many more potential wins. With annual free cash flow topping $2 billion, double-digit net profit margins, and a forward-looking P/E ratio around 18, Celgene looks very appealing.

Brian Feroldi: A biotech stock that I think is poised to bounce back nicely in 2016 is Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX 1.50%), a large cap biotechnology company that specializes in treating cystic fibrosis, or CF. Vertex's sales have been growing quickly over the past few years on the back on Kalydeco, one of its two approved CF treatments. Sales of Kalydeco grew 36% in 2015 to $632 million, and given that it grabbed several recent label expansions, the odds look good that 2016 will be another year of growth for the drug.

However, while the Kalydeco opportunity looks exciting in the short term, Vertex's newest CF drug Orkambi really looks poised for big things in 2016. Orkambi only recently won approval in both the U.S. and the European Union, but it is already having a big impact on Vertex's financial statements. Sales of Orkambi hit $220 million in the fourth quarter, its second quarter on the market, which means that it is already outselling Kalydeco. That's owed to the fact that Orkambi enjoys a larger addressable market than Kalydeco did, which has helped it to get off to a fast start. It's also worth knowing that Orkambi has yet to pull in any revenue from Europe -- Vertex is still lining up reimbursement in the region -- so as more countries come online its revenue growth should soar.
And yet, despite the fact that Orkambi and Kalydeco are poised to have very prosperous years, shares of Vertex are down about 35% from their summer highs. That's despite the fact that analysts believe that the company's revenue will grow to more than $2.2 billion in 2016, up 114% over the prior year, and to more than $3.3 billion the year after.
If the company's 2016 results show that it is on pace to successfully deliver on those results, than I could easily see shares resuming their long term growth trajectory.
Cheryl Swanson: My pick for Comeback Kid in biotechs right now is multiple sclerosis treatment powerhouse Biogen (BIIB 1.66%). Several big upcoming catalysts could send this biotech blue chip's share price sharply upward in 2016 -- assuming that all goes well.
Biogen expects data this year on a treatment with the odd name of LINGO, potentially the first drug to restore nerve damage caused by multiple sclerosis. Admittedly, LINGO is a long shot, and Biogen's Alzheimer's drug candidate aducanumab is even riskier. But the possibility that aducanumab could become an approvable therapy seems to be completely written out of Biogen's price, so any positive results could skyrocket this stock.
Data on two other Alzheimer's treatments earlier in development could also boost shares. Meanwhile, Biogen's joint venture with South Korean-based Samsung in biosimilars is starting to look like a real business. The venture notched its first win with a biosimilar version of Amgen's rheumatoid arthritis drug Embrel. A second big win could come if EU regulators approve a biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson's blockbuster Remicade.
Biogen's stock was beaten to its knees last year on concerns about slowing sales of its largest revenue driver Tecfidera (a blockbuster multiple sclerosis treatment), but earnings blew past Wall Street estimates in the recent quarter. Management also eased concerns about Tecfidera, saying U.S. demand has stabilized, while sales are growing in Europe. The company announced 11% growth in annual revenues and a significant cash stockpile of $3.4 billion. The size of that war chest gives Biogen ample ammunition for some price-moving acquisitions this year of either companies or drugs.

Brian Feroldi has no position in any stocks mentioned. Cheryl Swanson owns shares of Amgen and Johnson & Johnson. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amgen, Biogen, Celgene, and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene. The Motley Fool recommends Biogen, Johnson & Johnson, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. 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.

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