Biogen Idec: Is there More Value?

July 11, 2011

stocks held

When I wrote "Biogen Idec PML Test Approved in Europe, Changing Tysabri Outlook" on March 15, 2011, the price per share of BIIB was $69.56. Today it closed at $105.53, having backed off its recent 52 week high of $109.63. Quite a run. So, the eternal investor questions: did something change? Does the run up reflect value that was already there back in March? Could this be another momentum run unjustified by fundamentals? Could there be even more value in the stock?

Biogen Idec's two multiple sclerosis (MS) blockbuster drugs are Avonex, with revenues in Q4 2010 of $654 million, and Tysabri, with revenues of $242 million. Also Rituxan generated $258 million. As I wrote earlier, most investors and analysts expect Tysabri revenues to rise now that patients can be pre-tested for JCV. Trailing earnings are $4.35 per share, so the current price/earnings (PE) ratio, while not real high, does anticipate solid earnings growth. This is despite competition from new MS therapies, notably Gilenya by Novartis, which is the first oral treatment for the disease, but which was not as effective as Tysabri in clinical trials.

I have always argued that there is undiscovered value in the earlier stages of the Biogen Idec pipeline, but that situation is little changed since March. With 8 indications in Phase III trials, chances are that several new therapies will be approved over the next couple of years. However, Biogen does plan to narrow the scope of its development program, eliminating oncology and cardiovascular candidates to focus on immunology. This should reduce costs in the short run.

On June 7 Biogen announced the EU had approved its Avonex PEN, which is a single-use injection device which will make taking the drug more convenient for MS patients. Nice, but not responsible for a $40 stock run-up.

On June 22 Biogen announced the EU approved including JCV status as a risk factor for Tysabri, which we presumed would happen in March.

On July 3, after the run-up, Biogen announced some nice science research on the role of death receptor-6 (DR6) in MS. Nice, but probably ten years away from adding to revenues, if it should work out.

It is fair to conclude that the price of BIIB had been low because of fears about Tysabri revenue being permanently stalled by the JCV complication. Those fears stopped being justified as we learned more about JCV and its detection. It is remarkable how a rising stock price can make fear evaporate.

So are we at a just-right stock price? Of course next year's price will depend on how revenues and profits ramp (or don't) in 2011, and what the outlook looks like for 2013.

During 2010, when Tysabri was still under suspicion, Biogen grew total revenues grew to $4.72 billion from $4.38 billion in 2009. That is just 7.7% annual growth. But earnings per share grew 17.6%. In the latest reported quarter, Q1, revenue grew 9% y/y.

I will be surprised if Tysabri revenue growth does not accelerate. I am fine holding the stock in the current price band, but I would want to see actual revenue and profit acceleration before feeling a higher band is a safe bet.

At this point Biogen pays no dividend, but is certainly a profitable enough company that it could. It would also show management's confidence in the company's future.

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William P. Meyers


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Copyright 2011 William P. Meyers