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Biosimilars Have Massive Sales Potential: 5 Top Drug Stocks to Buy Now

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During the presidential campaign of 2015–2016, one of the areas that got some of the largest scrutiny was drug pricing, and with good reason. Spending on pharmaceuticals when the population as a whole is aging is massive. In fact, Americans spend a lot on prescription drugs, more per capita than any other country by far. Pharmaceuticals represent a significant and growing share of the country’s health spending, because new, and often costly, drugs are emerging from the labs, and because prices of many drugs are rising much faster than prices of other goods and services.

The U.S. government pays more than 40% of the retail prescription drug tab, and rising spending on drugs is putting continued pressure on the federal budget. It also contributes to rising health insurance premiums, a very sensitive issue with voters. As generics once brought you relief in the price of prescription drugs, biosimilars are a new entrant and could very well be a game changer.

A new Merrill Lynch research report notes the huge market potential for biosimilars, as they start taking a chunk of the $100 billion biologic market. The report said this:

Biologics are produced in a living system such as a microorganism or in cells, while small molecule pills are typically manufactured through chemical synthesis. The class of biologics includes monoclonal antibodies, blood-based products, vaccines, gene therapies and cellular therapies. Due to the complexity of development of these products, biologics are often more expensive to create and thus, come with a higher price tag than pills. The same holds true for biosimilars and generics. Whereas generics are copies of pills, biosimilars are “highly similar” versions, but not identical copies of branded biologics.

Some of the largest selling biologics could soon be exposed to biosimilar versions. The analysts also noted this:

According to our estimates, the first wave of biologics nearing potential patent expiry in the next two years includes drugs such as Humira, Remicade, Neulasta, and Lantus. We thought that it would be timely to take a preliminary look at the potential market for biosimilars. Based on our analysis, we estimate that biologic drugs representing at least $59 billion worth of 2016 US branded product sales could face patent expiry through 2030.

While the market is huge and the potential is staggering, many of the biosimilars may face extended legal challenges. Merrill Lynch points to five companies that, in their words, should be key players in the young but growing biosimilar market.

Amgen

This biotech giant remains a top stock for investors to buy and a safe way to play the potential growth in biosimilars. Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) focuses on areas of high unmet medical need and leverages its biologics manufacturing expertise to strive for solutions that improve health outcomes and dramatically improve people’s lives.

A biotechnology pioneer since 1980, Amgen has grown to be one of the world’s leading independent biotechnology companies, reaching millions of patients around the world and developing a pipeline of medicines with breakaway potential. The company’s five key marketed products are among the top-selling pharmaceutical products in the world.

Amgen shareholders are paid a 2.65% dividend. Merrill Lynch rates the shares a Buy with a $209 price target. The Wall Street consensus price target of $190.45, and shares traded Friday morning at $172.85.

Biogen

This large cap biotech will partner with Samsung Bioepis in the biosimilar world. Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) discovers, develops and delivers to patients worldwide innovative therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, hematologic conditions and autoimmune disorders. Founded in 1978, Biogen is one of the world’s oldest independent biotech companies, and patients worldwide benefit from its leading multiple sclerosis (MS) and innovative hemophilia therapies.

The company markets three products, Avonex, Tysabri and Tecfidera, that combined have the leading share of the worldwide $18 billion MS market.

Merrill Lynch has a Buy rating and a $365 price objective on the stock. The posted consensus price target is $345.99, and the shares were last seen at $308.00.

Merck

This leading health care company is also expected to partner with Samsung Bioepis, and its stock remains a top pick for conservative investors.

Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) offers therapeutic and preventive agents to treat cardiovascular issues, type 2 diabetes, asthma, nasal allergy symptoms, allergic rhinitis, chronic hepatitis C virus, HIV-1 infection, fungal infections, intra-abdominal infections, hypertension, arthritis and pain, inflammatory, osteoporosis, male pattern hair loss and fertility diseases.

The company also provides neuromuscular blocking agents for use in surgery, anti-bacterial products for skin and skin structure infections, cholesterol modifying medicines, non-sedating antihistamine and vaginal contraceptive products.

Merck shareholders receive an outstanding 3.34% dividend. Merrill Lynch does not cover this stock, but the consensus price target is $69.95. The stock traded at $55.65 a share on Friday morning.

Novartis

This company is among the world’s largest pharmaceutical drug makers by sales and remains a top international pick across Wall Street. Novartis A.G. (NYSE: NVS) develops, manufactures and markets a range of health care products worldwide. It operates through three segments.

The Pharmaceuticals segment offers patented prescription medicines for oncology, neuroscience, retina, immunology and dermatology, respiratory, cardio-metabolic, established medicines and cell and gene therapies. Key products include Diovan (hypertension), Gleevec (CML and GIST), Tasigna (CML) and Gilenya (MS). The Alcon segment provides eye care products, while the Sandoz segment offers generic prescription medicines.

Shareholders of Novartis are paid a 2.79% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a Neutral rating and an $88 price target. The Wall Street consensus price objective is $88.67. The shares were last seen at $82.00.

Pfizer

This top global pharmaceutical company made a gigantic splash last year with a $5.5 billion purchase of Anacor Pharmaceuticals. Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) is organized into two commercial segments. The Biopharmaceutical segment is focused on discovering, developing and marketing drugs for cardiovascular, metabolic, central nervous system, immunology, pain, infectious diseases, respiratory, oncology and other indications. The Diversified segment includes the consumer products division.

Pfizer investors are paid a very solid 3.64% dividend. Merrill Lynch does not cover this stock either. The posted consensus price objective is $38.30, and shares traded at $34.85.

These five top companies already have long-standing franchises with huge sales and revenues. More conservative accounts may want to buy the pharmaceutical giants, while more aggressive accounts could look to the biotech giants.