Overshadowed by Pharmacyclics M&A, Bristol-Myers Gets Approval for First Immune Oncology Drug

03/06/2015 9:07 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Though this biopharmaceutical giant’s pricey deal was the big news on Thursday, MoneyShow’s Jim Jubak shines a light on the other news that was overshadowed; another company’s approval for a cancer drug that uses the body’s own immune system to fight tumors.

The big news in the drug sector Thursday—as it has been for the past few days—has been the acquisition of Pharmacyclics (PCYC). Right now it looks like AbbVie (ABBV) has beat out a bid from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) to buy the cancer drug specialist at $261.25 a share. The price is staggering, especially when you remember that thanks to its partnership with Pharmacyclics, Johnson & Johnson, the loser in the bidding, will own half the profits from Pharmacyclics’ cancer drug Imbruvica. That pushes the acquisition’s price to 40 times revenue. That’s pricey, even for biotech deals. The average drug acquisition over the last three years has been at 31 times revenue, Bloomberg calculates.

On the news, shares of Pharmacyclics soared 10.3%, or $23.74 a share, to close Thursday at $254.22. That brings the stock’s one-year gain to 81%.

The deal also dragged other biotechs higher. Incyte (INCY), a member of my Jubak’s Picks portfolio with another promising cancer platform, gained 4.6% Thursday, for example.

Those M&A headlines and hopes pretty much overshadowed the other big drug story of the day, this one from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY). Wednesday, at least two months ahead of projections, the US Food & Drug Administration granted Bristol-Myers the first approval for a cancer drug that uses the body’s own immune system to fight tumors. This field of research has been hot lately with Merck (MRK) racing Bristol-Myers to be first into the market. The quick approval from the FDA, result of very strong outcomes leading to an early conclusion to clinical trials, gives the company the first-mover edge in what Morningstar estimates as the $33 billion market for immune oncology drugs. The Bristol-Myers drug just approved—Opdivo—could reap $12 billion in peak sales, Morningstar calculates. And, as the first immune-system cancer drug, Opdivo might represent just the beginning of a major drug research platform.

Like most big drug companies these days, Bristol-Myers faces the threat of plunging revenue from core drugs as they come off patent. The biggest loss comes this year when the patent on the company’s blockbuster Abilify expires.

However, with the success of Opdivo and a very promising partnership with Pfizer in cardiovascular drugs, it looks like Bristol-Myers has a strong enough pipeline to replace that revenue and more. And thanks to the sale of non-core assets, the company ended 2014 with $7.4 billion in cash, enough to finance an acquisition like the 2009 purchase of Medarex or the 2012 deal for Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

The stock isn’t cheap at 38.8 times projected 2015 earnings per share. But it does carry a 2.24% dividend (ex-dividend date is April 1) that has been growing steadily—if modestly—each year. It’s not an especially good fit with my Jubak’s Picks portfolio with its current positions in Incyte and Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS) and Abbott Laboratories (ABT) but I would suggest the shares for a portfolio that needs a dose of conservative and safe growth and that is underexposed to the drug and biotech sectors.

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