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Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ARIA), VIVUS, Inc. (VVUS): Winning Biotech Investment Strategies and Their Potential Pitfalls

Investing in biotech companies isn’t without its challenges, but it doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark, either. With a little bit of study, investors can have profitable trades using a couple of successful investment strategies.

Investment strategy #1: Buy the run up.
On the surface, it’s a simple investment strategy. As a binary event approaches, the price tends to increase as short-term traders glom onto a stock because they’re unwilling to own shares months or even weeks ahead of Food and Drug Administration decisions or clinical trial results.

Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARIA)

Investors with a little longer time frame can buy well ahead of the event, enjoy the run up, and then sell shares before the binary event.

It’s not a risk-free investment strategy, though. Not every biotech runs up ahead of its binary event; you’re counting on the actions of other investors, and sometimes they don’t show up. Technically, all investment strategies count on finding investors who are willing to pay more for a stock than you paid, but it can be dangerous over a short time frame with looming binary events.

The other downside of this investment strategy is that it’s not always clear when a decision will happen. Recently, the FDA has been making decisions well ahead of the goal set by the Pharmaceutical Drug User Fee Act, commonly referred to as the PDUFA date. Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARIA), for instance, gained early approval for its leukemia drug Iclusig last year, and shares traded down by double digits after the widely expected announcement.

Investment strategy #2: Short the launch.
FDA approvals are exciting — sometimes too exciting. Investors are so thrilled that a biotech finally has revenue that they forget that drug launches are difficult.

Observe the peaks in July 2012 after the FDA approved VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS)‘s and Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARNA)‘s  obesity drugs. VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS) launched Qsymia a few months later to lackluster sales. Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARNA)’s Belviq was just launched earlier this month after waiting for the DEA to sign off on the drug’s scheduling. While Arena sits a little lower than its post-approval high, it still has a ways to fall if the drug also fails to meet investors’ expectations.

VVUS Chart

VVUS data by YCharts.

Of course, shorting every FDA approval won’t work and could be very costly. Check out Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:REGN) after the November 2011 approval of its macular degeneration drug, Eylea. Once prescription and sales data started rolling in — smashing investors’ expectations — shares zoomed higher.

REGN Chart

REGN data by YCharts.

Investment strategy #3: Long-term buy and hold.
An oldie but a goodie. Find a good biotech that can develop multiple drugs and hold for years.

It’s certainly harder than it sounds, but can be very profitable if you can find the next Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG). A 14-bagger over 10 years? Most investors would gladly take that kind of return even if it’s only a small portion of their portfolio.

CELG Chart

CELG data by YCharts.

Beyond the difficulty of finding a company that can produce the sales that Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG)’s drugs have, it can be difficult to stick with the company for that long. Celgene was arguably overvalued at times over the last 10 years. Selling at the highs and buying at the lows would produce an even higher return, but identifying the peaks and valleys is difficult.

The article 3 Winning Biotech Investment Strategies and Their Potential Pitfalls originally appeared on

Fool contributor Brian Orelli has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Celgene.

Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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