Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 2008 Performance Review

It is time again to review past picks and to learn about my mistakes.

The table below includes a list of my historical picks.

ARNA and ALTU stand out as worst performing picks. Interestingly they are both small cap picks, so this drop is not so unexpected. I am removing ALTU from my picks due to current conflicts of interest. ARNA ( link to original post) has suffered because they have not announced a partner yet for its weight loss drug Lorcaserin. This is probably because the pharmaceutical industry thinks that weight loss drugs have litigation liability and are waiting for more safety data. I still believe Lorcaserin has a great chance to be successful because of its specific mechanism of action.

On the upside, Pharmasset (VRUS) has been a huge gainer. I did not expect it to do so well but their HepC trial drug is moving well in the clinic. Again, this is expected of small biotech companies.

In 2007 I stayed away from Onyx (ONXX) and Alnylam(ALNY). I missed an opportunity in ALNY which has had a good performance ($17-$30.5) while ONXX has been moving sideways ($52-$50).

I was first wrong about getting out of Celgene (CELG) at $51 based on valuations just watch the stock to go up to $70. However, poor european sales and a tactical purchase of its partner has brought the price down to a more reasonable price of $54. I like CELG at these levels but I believe 2008 will be a disappointing year for CELG stock as wall street will anticipate benefits from its buy-out and the level of competition for Revlimid.

I am putting Rigel Pharmaceuticals (RIGL), Advanced Magnetics (AMAG) and Regerneron (REGN) on my watch list and I will write about them shortly.

Finally, I have been a bit stubborn while holding on to Vertex (VRTX). I still believe Telaprivir is superior to other HepC products in the clinic and will be a blockbuster. I am recommending another long position here at $22 as I believe the start of phase III trials in first half of 2008 will drive the stock price much higher. Interestingly, Vertex has recently announced they will start clinical trials for a combination therapy with an existing investigational compound from another company. I speculate this will be Pharmasset's (VRUS) polymerase inhibitor as their mechanisms of action may have a synergistic effect in weakening Hepatitis C virus.

Disclosure: The author has long positions in some of the stocks mentioned above.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wall street signals point to a good year for Pharma and Biotech

It is hard to find any signs of optimism on wall street these days. Nasdaq has had 8 consecutive down days and is down 8% to start the year, and most investors are ready to predict a bad year for the markets. Some of this sell off could be attributed to redemptions at hedge funds and mutual funds. But to me, this sell off feels a lot like flight from a US recession which has turned into a flight to anything foreign. It is true that the growth overseas (and down in South America) is much better than here in US, but it comes with a much higher set of risks.

One source of domestic safe haven has always been health care. It is a well known recession proof play that has benefited from economic cycles. The Nasdaq Biotech Index is flat for the year, outpacing the Nasdaq, and may signal a good year for Pharmaceutical and Biotech names. I had posed a Poll question on this blog asking the readers opinion on this sector in 2008. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority said that 2008 would be a great year for pharma and biotech stocks (look in the side bar for the poll results). 92% of the 14 responders predict a greater than 10% return for the sector in 2008 ( I know the sample size is tiny!). One obvious risk to this theory becomes the 2008 elections and whether a president from the democratic party would push for lower drug prices which would hurt the bottom line for the industry.

The much publicized JP morgan health care conference has been a catalyst for a lot of stock movement in the past week. Merck (MCK) is up 3% , Eli Lilly (LLY) is up 5% and Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) is up 6% for the year. These three stocks have momentum based on good product stories. Merck is continuing with its successful Gardasil for prevention of cervical cancer, Lilly just got approval for once a day Cialis for erectile dysfunction and GSK is set to report some better news for its diabetes treatment Avandia.

For Biotech names, my favorite name Genzyme (GENZ) had a solid 07 and just signed a deal to co-develop a cholesterol treatment with ISIS pharmaceuticals, Biogen-Idec (BIIB) increased its earning projections. Celgene (CELG) beat estimates and reiterated earnings in 2008.

Even Amgen (AMGN) and Genentech (DNA) are participating in a strong first week of 2008 while coming off of their multi-year lows.

This is the year that we may see the first Phase III clinical trial for a Hepatitis C protease inhibitor, Vertex's (VRTX) Telepravir. Others, such as Pharmasset (VRUS) and Intermune (ITMN) also have HCV products in the clinic which will make for an interesting race for this multi-billion dollar market.

A safe way to invest in the Biotech sector would be to buy Merrill Lynch's Biotech Holders ETF(BBH) which is trading at $160, the lowest level since 2005.

Bottom line: Positive headline news for the pharmaceutical industry will make it a great investment opportunity in 2008. Look for more deals including mergers and acquisitions and licensing to mark a good year for health care stocks in 2008.

Disclosure: The author has long option and stock positions in some of the above mentioned companies.