Maybe you didn’t even know there was a biotech dip.
If all you’ve been following in the sector is a stock like Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR), a Jubak Picks member (and the call options are a holding in my Volatility Portfolio), you’re likely to respond “What dip?” Nektar is up, 325% for 2017 to date and 178% in the last three months as of the close on November 27.
But the reality is that the sector as a whole has been going nowhere–or worse. The iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF (IBB) is up just 0.4% in the last three months and down 0.54% in the month. From the local high on October 5, the sector ETF was down 8.8% as of the close on November 27.
What we’re looking at is a deeply divided sector where the shares of a few companies with headline making products, such as Nektar’s new opioid with the potential to be as effective as current pain drugs but not significantly addictive, are soaring but other stocks in the sector are faltering.
Shares that have seen losses rather than gains tend to be larger, show increasing spending on research and development and/or marketing, and look to be pursuing a strategy of remaining independent rather than seeking an acquisition. In cases where there are, in addition, questions about the time table for approval of a drug or increasing competition the market has been unforgiving. Incyte (INCY), a long time member of my Jubak Picks portfolio, for example is down 2.4% for 2017 to date and has tumbled 19.6% in the last three months. (Which is still better–not that relative pain is a useful measure of stock performance–than a sector leader such as Celgene (CELG), down 10.7% for 2017 to date as of the close on November 27, and lower by 20.3% over the last three months.)
For some of these biotechs, it’s time to buy on the dip. I think Incyte belongs in that category. Picking a bottom is hard–I wrote not so long ago that I thought Incyte had put in a bottom at $114 but the stock closed at $95.83 on November 28–but here are my reasons for thinking that this is a good time to buy these shares.
First, Incyte’s slide really dates back to the failure of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to approve baricitinib. Instead the agency sent Incyte and its partner Eli Lilly (LLY) back with a request for more data. The hope initially was that the companies could produce that extra data without running additional clinical trials. That would have resulted in a fairly quick return to the FDA. But further trials have turned out to be necessary, which resulted in a degree of delay that the market found disappointing. However, the companies recently presented data at the American College of Rheumatology meeting showing that patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis treated with baricitinib reported greater improvements in pain control than patients treated with Humira or a placebo. Eli Lilly has said that it expects to resubmit its new drug application to the FDA before the end of January. The delay seems to be drawing to a close.
Second, the market has focused on rising spending on research and development as the company spends more on clinical trials and partnerships to bring in new drug candidates. That has led to an under appreciation of the growth in revenue at the company from its existing Jakafi drug franchise. But Jakafi is growing into a huge winner as Incyte continues to expand the drug’s footprint. For the third quarter Jakafi sales at $304 million (against the $287 million consensus) helped drive Incyte to a solid beat on revenue. Management, in fact, increased its full year guidance for Jakafi to $1.13-$1.14 billion from $1.09-$1.12 billion.
Third, Incyte isn’t a one-drug pony (Jakafi) or even a two-horse chariot (Jakafi and baricitinib). Incyte has also announced that it will present more than 30 abstracts at the upcoming American Society of Hematology annual meeting from December 9-12. Some of these will be for Jakafi but others will address therapies for advanced or metastatic malignancies, squamous cell carcinomas, and non-small cell lung cancer and will include the first human data from some of the company’s new inhibitor programs.
The American Society of Hematology meeting will indeed present the kind of news flow that in other markets would have bumped the stock considerably higher. If you’re a conservative investor looking to find the bottom in this stock, you might wait until after this meeting to see how shares react to the news. But my read of the catalysts for Incyte certainly suggests that you want to be on board for the second half, at the latest, of the first half of 2018.
As of November 28 I’m tweaking my target price a little higher to $145 from the prior $142 a share. Incyte is up 115% since I added it to the Jubak Picks portfolio on April 7, 2014.