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Massachusetts-based Biogen Idec (Nasdaq: BIIB, $50.50) specializes in the development of therapies aimed at the fields of oncology, neurology, cardiology and autoimmune disorders. Major products include multiple sclerosis drugs Avonex and Tysabri. The company's biggest seller is Rituxan, the drug of choice for doctors treating patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
These drugs are a big reason why Biogen's annual revenues have topped $3 billion and could easily surpass $4 billion for the first time this year. Looking ahead, regulators have just given the green light for Rituxan to also be used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis -- opening up a whole new target market worth tens of billions. Superior testing data suggests Biogen could capture a healthy share of this market in the years ahead.
Of course, there is also a full lineup of potential heavy hitters waiting in the development pipeline. In fact, the firm has several cancer and cardiopulmonary drugs in final Phase 3 development and eight more close behind in Phase 2.
Biogen has previously teamed up with a number of other companies, including Elan (NYSE: ELN) and Genentech (NYSE: DNA), in the past. But unlike some of its existing drugs, new products currently under development aren't part of any co-marketing or collaborative partnership arrangements -- meaning Biogen will retain all the proceeds.
Those proceeds could drive impressive bottom-line growth. Thanks in part to the proven efficacy of its drugs, Biogen is able to charge premium prices and maintain operating margins in the 30% range -- excellent in absolute terms, but stellar when compared with companies like Amylin (Nasdaq: AMLN) that still haven't achieved profitability yet.
Rituxan, for example, can cost well over $10,000 per treatment course and is largely insulated from the threat of generic competition since generic equivalents of biologics (even those outside of patent protection) still aren't legally allowed in the U.S. marketplace.
It's also reassuring to see that a number of veteran biotech specialists have made Biogen one of their top picks, with funds like the Fidelity Select Biotechnology and Eaton Vance Health Sciences holding concentrated positions in the stock. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn is also accumulating shares and just increased his stake to 6% of the company's shares, citing attractive valuation.
I should note that the company has had safety concerns with Tysabri in recent years involving rare, but deadly, brain complications. However, because the product has been so effective, it is now back on the market and booming -- sales of the drug rocketed +210% last quarter to $147 million. Overall, the company has reported three straight quarters of +25% or better sales growth and just boosted its full-year earnings forecast.
Unfortunately, just when Biogen was cruising along, reports of two new brain infections for Tysabri patients hit the market and sent the shares spiraling to a 52-week low. The risk of further cases should not be downplayed. But until word of these isolated incidents broke, Tysabri had been completely trouble-free since re-entering the market in 2006 and working well for over 30,000 users worldwide. And the drug is still on track to have 100,000 users by 2010.
In the meantime, this pullback has opened up an opportunity to own a piece of this promising company at a good value. At current prices, the shares of Biogen have the potential to appreciate more than +35% before reaching their fair value of $69 per share. The recent plummet of Biogen's shares is a textbook example of the risks that all biotechs face. However, the FDA is updating Tysabri's label and doesn't appear to be taking any further action -- the potential rewards to the thousands who rely on the drug far outweigh the slight risks.
I think this knee-jerk reaction has provided an attractive entry point. For less adventurous investors who still want a taste of the exciting prospects in the biotech field, an ETF like PowerShares Dynamic Biotech & Genome (AMEX: PBE) that holds a broad basket of stocks might be worth considering.
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