Heading into the new year, only one word matters for the biotech stocks: buyout.
Already, we’ve seen a fury of activity this past year, as many of the larger pharmaceutical and biotech giants look to plug holes in their aging pipelines. This activity accelerated at the end of the end, with Novartis (NYSE:NVS), Merck (NYSE:MRK) and Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY) all making big blockbuster buys over the last month or so.
And, the buys could continue into the new year.
For one thing, many of the big biotech stocks are flushed with cash. Thanks to the tax cuts of 2017, repatriation of cash and continued sales of blockbuster drugs, many of the biggest biotech stocks are holding billions on their balance sheets. Meanwhile, pipelines and approvals of new drugs are starting to dry up. According to investment bank JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), over the last 20 years, the FDA has only approved an average of between 20 and 25 new drugs per year. Most of those approvals have come from advanced drugs, new cancer fighters and a hefty dose of biologics.
With the need to fill pipelines and replace aging blockbusters, the major biotech stocks are in a bind. And that means buying their way out of these issues.
For investors, this poises an interesting scenario. Plenty of gains can be had betting on the right biotech stock with a promising pipeline as the bigger fish start spending their cash. However, which biotech stocks have the promise?
Here are three biotech stocks that make for great buyout targets.
Biotech Stocks That Are Buyout Targets: Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals (ARWR)
It’s no secret that gene therapy has quickly become all the rage, with pharmaceutical firms trying to tackle rare and orphan diseases. And while there are a ton of new technologies that fall under this umbrella, RNA interference (RNAi) has the potential to be a real game changer.
Basically, it’s a mechanism that uses a “gene’s own DNA sequence of gene to turn it off.” With Novartis spending nearly $10 billion on RNAi buyouts in recent months, Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARWR) could be an intriguing stock to look at it.
ARWR’s sole specialty is RNAi drugs and features a big pipeline of therapies in various stages of development. These drugs include tackling aliments like liver disease, Cystic Fibrosis and cancerous tumors. So far, the biotech has been pretty successful at navigating the various phases of clinical trials. Data from many of its late-stage drugs seem very promising.
However, the real reason to be excited that ARWR could be bought out is that it already counts a very deep-pocketed biotech among its development partners. Arrowhead has already cut deals with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) for development of treatment for chronic hepatitis B infections. The deal provides ARWR with plenty of upfront cash, development and milestone rights. However, given the rush to buyout RNAi providers, JNJ has every reason to consider snagging the firm outright.
Now, Arrowhead isn’t unknown at this point. In fact, the stock has surged over the last year — especially since October. Some of that was do to the NVS buyouts in the sector. But, a lot of it was do to ARWR’s own wins and progress. But, with plenty of potential and market cap of just $6 billion, Arrowhead could provide more gains in the year ahead — buyout or not.
A lot has been written about Amarin (NASDAQ:AMRN). The biotech stock has been a roller coaster the last few years, going from obscurity to being on hot lists. The reason comes down to its only medicine –Vascepa.
Vascepa is really just a fish oil pill. But man, is it good. Data for the drug was stellar, with patients experiencing a 20% less chance of cardiovascular death, 31% less heart attacks and 28% less strokes. All in all, Vascepa was able to reduce cardiovascular risk by 25%. With its big cache of data and FDA approval, AMRN now has a blockbuster on its hands. Patients facing cardiovascular events who are already on statins now have another line of defense to fight. With that, AMRN now predicts that it’ll be able to accumulate $650 to $700 million in sales this year.
So, why buyout potential? That’s an easy source of bolt-on revenue with some decent growth prospects.
Cardiovascular disease remains a huge threat that only continues to get worse as diet and genetics play an increasing role. Vascepa has the potential to be the next Lipitor in that fight. And that blockbuster potential makes it a great add-on for drug companies with big cardiovascular portfolios. With a market cap of only $7 billion, Amarin is a pretty easy pill to swallow for a larger biotech stock looking to boost its sagging growth potential.
In the end, Vascepa could be a blockbuster and that could lead to a sale of ARMN stock.
Intercept Pharmaceuticals (ICPT)
Non-alcoholic SteatoHepatitis (NASH) remains a tough nut to crack. The progressive liver disease can destroy the organ, and is projected to become the leading cause of all liver transplants this year. For nations with fatty diets, prevalence of NASH is estimated to be as much as 20% of the total population. The problem is that most potential treatments for the disease have fallen flat.
And, that could make Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ICPT) the only boat in the sea.
Intercept’s drug Ocaliva is used to treat a rare, chronic liver disease known as primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). PBC is very similar to NASH. This allowed ICPT to pivot the medicine and results were pretty great. So great, that ICPT recently submitted the drug for review with the FDA.
Perhaps even better is that the agency granted Intercept priority review for the drug. That could lead to quicker approval time and reduce the headaches ICPT needs to get the therapy out to market.
Given the potential size of NASH and the need for the drug, ICPT could be looking at a major blockbuster on it hands. And as the only man standing in the sector, that could lead to plenty of buyout activity for the stock. This is especially true as shares of the firm have slipped over the last year, but gained traction in October. With a market cap of about $4 billion, Intercept is a very digestible for many other biotech stocks.
In the end, ICPT is sitting right in the sweet spot for mergers and acquisitions activity. With strong growth potential, first-mover status and a low market cap all being factors.
At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any stock mentioned.