The first half of 2013 has seen remarkable growth in the biotech sector, with the iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology Index (ETF) (NASDAQ:IBB) up >40% YTD. The industry continues to climb with development-stage companies cranking out innovative pipelines. As biotech’s biggest company, Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) is beginning to look more like Big Pharma than its biotech growth peers. It has high margins, a comparatively low valuation, and is the only biotech currently paying a dividend. But with it’s established value, can Amgen still be viewed as the growth stock of its youth?
The Market Says “Value”
Comparing Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) to its peers, it is clear that the market views Amgen’s growth prospects less favorably than those of Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG), Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD), or Biogen Idec Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB). Despite its 22% run-up YTD, Amgen is still trading around a price/earnings multiple of 18.4, whereas Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG), Gilead, and Biogen Idec Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) are each trading closer to a multiple of 40, near or above their all time highs. Instead, Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) is priced more comparatively with established Big Pharma companies, like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), and Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK), each trading at multiples in the teens and 20s.
The disparity between Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN)’s valuation and that of its biotech brethren likely comes from the relative abundance of near-term catalysts in its peers’ sights.
Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG) has been soaring on the promise of its multiple myeloma drug Revlimid, as well as its immunological therapy Apremilast, which will eat away psoriatic arthritis revenues from blockbusters Humira (Abbvie), Enbrel (Amgen), and Remicade (Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)).
Gilead, a leader in HIV therapy, has investors excited over its groundbreaking oral Hepatitis C remedy sofosbuvir, currently under FDA review. And Biogen Idec Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) keeps climbing as investors watch its multiple sclerosis drugs Tysabri and Tecfidera.
Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN)’s revenues, which have stabilized in the last several quarters, come from well established drugs, including blockbuster Enbrel. Enbrel sales continue to climb modestly as its price increases, growing 11% from the same period last year to $1.04 billion in Q1 2013. Amgen has done well to protect Enbrel from generic competition, using some fancy legal work to extend its patent to 2028, and revenue will take an additional bump as Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)’s royalty rights drop by year’s end. Enbrel sales growth has been offset by waning sales of Neupogen and Aranesp.
The Pipeline Says “Growth”
Amgen’s pipeline is pretty impressive. Of the set of currently approved drugs, Amgen is seeking to expand the labels of Prolia for osteoporosis, Xgeva for bone cancers, Vectibix for colorectal cancers, and Aranesp for myelodysplastic syndromes, or diseases of the bone marrow. With their current indications, Prolia and Xgeva saw 46% and 61% sales growth in the first quarter YOY, respectively. Label expansion should provide further revenue growth.
More interestingly, the novel drug candidates in Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN)’s pipeline are worth a second look. Amgen has six new candidates currently in Phase 3 trials, as well as six different drugs in Phase 2 (in addition, some of the drugs in Phase 3 trials also have trials in Phase 2 for other indications).
The most noteworthy development-stage drug is AMG145 for the treatment of hyperlipidemia — a collection of disorders including elevated triglycerides or cholesterol. AMG145, a PCSK9 inhibitor, works by mimicking a naturally occurring mutation that results in decreased basal levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol.