Buying Isis: My Stock Pick for a Best in Class Biotech

05/22/2014 4:30 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Given today's price correction, coupled with the forthcoming cancer conference, which has previously given biotech drug companies a boost, MoneyShow's Jim Jubak has found enough reason to add this biotech's stock to his portfolio, as of today, May 22, 2014.

Shares of Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS) no longer look like a falling knife and I’m adding them to my Jubak’s Picks portfolio. One of the biggest cancer conferences of the year—that of the American Society of Clinical Oncology—begins on May 30 (and runs through June 3). That meeting always provides a boost to biotech drug companies (even if their strongest drug candidates aren’t cancer drugs). Isis is headed into the conference with strong momentum from the May 22 release of results from its trial of ISIS-FXIRx anticoagulant in patients undergoing knee replacement surgery. The incidence of blood clots and bleeding in the trial were significantly lower, Isis reported, than for patients receiving the approved anticoagulant, enoxaparin. (The drug is currently in mid-level trials and Isis does not yet have a partner for its development.)

With the addition to Isis today, the portfolio is heavier than I’d like on biotechs. My April pick of Incyte (INCY) does give me a biotech focused on cancer. My earlier pick of OncoGenex (OGXI) has been a major disappointment on April 28 bad news on Phase 3 trials for prostate cancer. I’ll look to sell that position after collecting any potential conference bounce. (Shares of OncoGenex were up 2.14% today as of 3:00 PM New York time. That is a bit of the pre-conference bounce that the whole sector will see—in my opinion.)

Basically, my strategy here is to use the huge sell off in biotech to trade up to stocks with the best potential in the biotech sector (Incyte and Isis in my opinion) now that prices have corrected.

Even with today’s (May 22) big gain of 10.04% as of 3:00 PM New York time, shares of Isis are way down on the sell off in biotech and other momentum stocks that began in February. The stock’s February 21 closing high was $59. The shares were trading at $25.53 as of 3:00 PM today. I’m adding the shares to the portfolio with a target price of $55 a share.

Isis has one of the strongest pipelines in biotech, with 30 drug candidates in clinical development. It’s an overstatement to say that Isis owns “antisense” technology, but the company is a dominant player in that approach to drug development. And it looks like 2014 and 2015 will bring enough positive news on clinical trials across a wide variety of diseases to demonstrate the value of that position in antisense to the market. (To be very general, antisense technology focuses on developing compounds that bind to a specific gene to interrupt the production of disease-causing proteins. For example, ISIS-FXIRx targets Factor XI produced in the liver. High levels of Factor XI raise the risk of dangerous blood clot formation.)

Other drugs under development at Isis include drugs for Huntington’s disease, for spinal muscular atrophy in infants and children, for myotonic dystrophy, for hepatitis B, for high cholesterol and high triglycerides, for prostate cancer (with OncoGenex), and for other cancers, with AstraZeneca.

As with all biotechs, you’ll need patience and a tolerance for market volatility (understatement alert).

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. When in 2010 I started the mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, I liquidated all my individual stock holdings and put the money into the fund. The fund did not own shares of Incyte, Isis, or OncoGenex as of the end of March. In preparation for closing the fund at the end of May, as of the end of March I had moved the fund’s holdings almost totally to cash.

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