Healthcare Business

CAR T-Cell Stocks a Better Way to Leverage Biotech Than New 3x ETFs

If you missed the biotech run and want to try to catch the train this late in the game, it would be wise not to use the new Proshares leveraged biotech exchange traded funds (ETFs). Proshares UltraPro Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (NASDAQ: UBIO) and ProShares UltraPro Short Nasdaq Biotech ETF (NASDAQ: ZBIO) both aim to reproduce three times the daily movement, or its inverse, of the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index. Using them is akin to borrowing money in order to play roulette in the VIP room and placing your bets while riding the mechanical bull.

Unleveraged biotech itself tends to act as leverage on the Nasdaq. If you compare the iShares Biotechnology Index ETF (NASDAQ: IBB) to the Powershares QQQ Trust (NASDAQ: QQQ), you will see that over the past five years, IBB has itself delivered close to three times the Nasdaq. Adding three times more over that and resetting the calculation each day means that you essentially are leveraged nine times against the whole biotech market, while a single surprise daily swing can throw you off the mechanical bull.

Granted, leverage is an important aspect of trading, if you think you can pin down at least a medium-term trend, but there are wiser ways to get leverage in biotech than UBIO.

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If you believe that the run in biotech is not over yet (itself a risky assessment) and you want to play catch up, a wiser course of action would be to collect CAR T-cell companies for the medium term. The CAR T-cell niche is a very new group of speculative biotechnology stocks working on chimeric antigen receptor T-cells against cancer. In one sentence, the technology can be described as gluing specific cancer cell receptors, or antigens, onto the body of a human immune cell, making the immune cell recognize and attack the cancer. This differs from the more popular approach to cancer immunotherapy, which is exposing immune cells directly to cancer antigens and just seeing what happens.

CAR T-cell-focused stocks like Bluebird Bio Inc. (NASDAQ: BLUE), Ziopharm Oncology Inc. (NASDAQ: ZIOP) and Kite Pharma Inc. (NASDAQ: KITE) have all vastly outperformed the IBB ETF, but without a daily reset like UBIO, and without the ETF fees. This allows for catching any anticipated trend without the imminent danger of falling off the ride any given day. CAR T-cells, while they are a potentially dangerous technology with safety issues, have an equally compelling upside, which gives them natural leverage over wider biotech. Since these companies are in the early phases of clinical trials, movement is mostly event-related rather than fundamental, with clinical milestones due for many of them over the next year.

Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) is an exception in that it is not currently outperforming biotech since its initial public offering (IPO), but that is largely an effect of it having the largest IPO of the top CAR T stocks at over $3 billion back in December. To get leverage on Juno, one would have to look into smaller companies it partners with on CAR T-cell technology, like MabVax Therapeutics, which is supplying some of the antigen targets for Juno’s T-cells.

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Overall, playing catch up on the run in biotech, while inherently a dangerous game, can be played smarter than day holding exotic ETFs like UBIO. CAR T-cell stocks may be exotic, but at least there is no daily reset or fees to pay in decay. A mix of these stocks should provide good equivalent exposure to leverage on the Biotechnology Index without the needless extra risk involved in a 3x levered ETF structure with a daily reset button.