Amgen (AMGN) is literally one of the world’s biotech pioneers. Founded in California in 1980 and going public three years later, the company – formerly known as American Molecular Genetics – has been on the cutting edge of genetic therapeutics, molecular biology and biochemistry for almost 40 years.
Following the 2009 acquisition of Genentech – an early competitor in recombinant DNA technology – by Roche, Amgen became the world’s largest stand-alone biotechnology research and development company.
Amgen’s first blockbuster product was synthetic human erythropoietin that had been produced in cell culture using non-human animal eggs. The technique was lauded as brilliantly creative at the time - as well as covered by extensive patent protection. Epogen was approved by the FDA in 1989 for the treatment of chronic anemia as a result of kidney disease, and approvals for use in cancer, HIV and other critical ill patients soon followed. By 2002 it was the single-most paid-for pharmaceutical by Medicare with reimbursements of over $2 billion annually.
Neupogen is still marketed by Amgen and also sold under the brand named “Procrit” through a licensing agreement with Johnson and Johnson (JNJ).
In fact, Erythropoietin is so effective at helping the human body produce red blood cells under stressful conditions that Epogen was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s “banned” list and was the subject of many failed drug tests by healthy endurance athletes who had obtained it illegally and used it as a performance-enhancing drug.
Amgen continued to use unique and creative techniques for developing precisely targeted therapeutic biologicals based on naturally occurring human compounds for a wide range of afflictions, including kidney failure, osteoporosis, migraines, auto-immune disorders and many more serious illnesses.
Starting in 1994, Amgen also started making strategic acquisitions of smaller biotech companies who owned promising intellectual property that fit well into the Amgen stable of treatments. Among the 17 companies acquired in the past 25 years was Immunex, which was on the verge of approval for its rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel, now another Amgen blockbuster with annual sales of over $5 billion.
Current pharmaceutical offerings like Neulasta, Neupogen and Repatha headline a list of 18 drugs that are currently being sold by Amgen or its partners - producing $23 billion in annual revenues.
The company also continues to use state-of-the-art science to investigate new treatments for serious illnesses. They currently have 24 compounds in Phase 1 trials, 2 in Phase 2 and 5 in Phase 3 – as well as countless experiments running on pre-trial drug ideas.
It's exactly that combination of huge-selling and profitable drugs and a full pipeline of candidates for the next generation of success stories that make Amgen such a compelling investment. The typical narrative for a small startup biotech is that they have a low number of potential drugs in development or even in trials, and with little or no revenues, significant costs and essentially infinate pricing multiples, investors are quick to unload shares at the first sign of any trouble.
Amgen is already so far past that stage that they look attractive on a valuation basis just based on current lines of business. The potential for new best-selling drugs is just gravy for shareholders.
With a forward P/E Ratio of just 13.7X and an annual dividend yield of 3%, Amgen can be viewed simultaneously as a Value stock, a Growth stock and an Income stock.
Twelve upward analyst revisions in the past 60 days have brought the Zacks Consensus Earnings Estimate for 2019 from $13.90/share to $14.30 and help earn Amgen a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). 2020 estimates have been rising on a similar trajectory over the same period – from $14.78 to $15.42/share.
Pharmaceutical companies tend to be steady performers, producing sales gains even in difficult economic conditions, but with little chance of huge growth. Early-stage Biotechs have explosive potential, but they also have a tendency to implode when things don’t go as planned.
Owning Amgen shares allows a savvy investor to experience the best of both worlds.
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