3 Top Biotech Stocks to Buy Right Now

By Markets Fool.com


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Looking for great biotech stocks to buy? You have plenty of options. Biotech stocks in general have performed great over the past few years and are bouncing back from a slump that began in the second half of 2015.

The good news is that you can make money without having to take on the levels of risk associated with smaller clinical-stage biotechs. Some of the biggest biotechs around are also some of the best buys around right now. So which biotech stocks are the best choices for investors? I think Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), and Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) stand at the top of the list.

Amgen: Steady growth and a steady dividend

Amgen's past success was driven in large part by anemia drug Epogen and bone marrow stimulants Neulasta and Neupogen. Those drugs are now past their glory days, but the big biotech's product lineup includes enough horsepower to continue fueling steady revenue and earnings growth.

In the second quarter of 2016, seven of Amgen's current products saw double-digit percentage sales growth compared to the prior-year period. Anti-inflammatory drug Enbrel continues to lead the pack in total revenue, but multiple myeloma drug Kyprolis claims the fastest-growing sales in the company's lineup.

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I think the future looks bright for Amgen. Repatha, the first of a new class of cholesterol drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors, gained regulatory approval last year. Although Repatha got off to a slower start than anticipated due partly to payer pushback on pricing, the drug should still become a big winner for Amgen. The biotech's pipeline includes 32 drugs in clinical testing, 12 of which are in late-stage development. Amgen is also developing six biosimilars.

Amgen is something of a rarity among biotechs in that it pays a dividend. The company has increased the dividend payment each year since 2011 by at least 27%.As a result, Amgen's dividend yield currently stands at a healthy 2.4%. I look for continued dividend hikes in the future. Amgen's steady growth and steady dividend make this biotech stock one for investors to seriously consider.

Biogen: Neuroscience leader with a spinoff on the way

Biogen's multiple sclerosis (MS) franchise helped generate impressive returns for shareholders over the last several years. The company's top-selling drug, Tecfidera, continues to grow sales at a solid pace. Another MS drug, Plegridy, is coming on strong, with year-over-year sales growth of 65% in the second quarter.

The biotech doesn't only focus on MS. Hemophilia drugs Eloctate and Alprolix are also experiencing sizzling sales growth. Biogen won't keep these drugs in its portfolio for long, however. The company plans to spin off its hemophilia business into a new publicly traded entity to be known as Bioverativ in early 2017. Biogen believes that this spinoff will unlock value for current shareholders.

While Bioverativ focuses on the potential $7 billion global hemophilia market, as well as other blood disorders, Biogen intends to produce even more good news for investors with its pipeline. The biotech counts only three drugs in late-stage development right now, but that relatively small number includes a potential game-changer: aducanumab. The drug is perhaps the most promising treatment yet for Alzheimer's disease.

Nusinersen wasn'tcounted in those three late-stage drugs. Biogen and partner Ionis Pharmaceuticals filed for regulatory approval of thespinal muscular atrophy drug in late September. The two companies also applied for priority review, which could mean a shorter time to market if approved.

Biogen doesn't pay a dividend like Amgen does, but the company has returned plenty of money to investors in another way: Since 2006, Biogen has bought back around $11 billion of stock.

Celgene: Multiple blockbusters with a powerhouse pipeline

There's a lot for investors to like about Celgene. The biotech's stock has soared in recent years largely on the strength of blood-disease drug Revlimid. But Celgene isn't solely dependent on its top drug.

Multiple myeloma drug Pomalyst is on track to become another blockbuster for the biotech. So is Otezla, which treats plaque psoriasis. Abraxane is also generating significant revenue, although sales of the cancer drug aren't growing as strongly as Otezla, Pomalyst, and Revlimid.

Celgene expects to increase earnings per share through 2020 by a compounded annual growth rate of 23%. I don't see any problems with the company achieving that goal and perhaps even keeping the momentum going beyond then, especially considering that the current strong lineup is topped by a powerhouse pipeline.

The biotech counts over 50 potential new product approvals that are possible through 2025. It's probable that some of those products won't make it to market, but Celgene's pipeline includes several candidates that I think are likely to be big winners down the road.

Two late-stage drugs that could have great potential are mongersen and ozanimod. Mongersen is currently in a phase 3 study for treatment of Crohn's disease and a phase 2 study targeting ulcerative colitis. Ozanimod is in a couple of phase 3 studies, one for multiple sclerosis and another for ulcerative colitis. The drug is also in a phase 2 study for treatment of Crohn's disease.

Like Biogen, Celgene doesn't pay a dividend, but it has rewarded shareholders via stock buybacks. Since 2009, the biotech returned over $15 billion to investors through repurchasing shares.

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Keith Speights owns shares of Celgene. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Biogen, Celgene, and Ionis Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool has the following options: short October 2016 $95 puts on Celgene. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.