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A Buysider's Preview of Biotech's Biggest Conference

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Over the past few weeks, I've reviewed my best and worst stock calls of 2012 and discussed what the healthcare sector may deliver in 2013. This week, let's quickly preview the upcoming J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which will be held in San Francisco next week. After that, I have a surprise announcement to make.

I've been attending the J.P. Morgan conference more or less annually for well over a decade -- long enough to remember when the boutique investment bank Hambrecht & Quist (H&Q) ran the show before being gobbled up by JPM in 1999. Although unquestionably chaotic, the J.P. Morgan confab offers a great opportunity to survey the healthcare landscape at the start of a fresh year and learn about new companies that could become great investments.

Celgene (CELG - Get Report) is the obvious place to start on the morning of Monday, Jan. 7. Last year, management issued financial guidance at the conference and will likely do so again. I will also be watching the company's body language on Abraxane closely for any hints about detailed results from a phase III trial in pancreatic cancer to be presented at a medical meeting later in January. [I wrote a previous <a href="http://www.thestreet.com/story/11736241/1/making-the-call-celgenes-abraxane-will-work-in-pancreatic-cancer.html">column about Abraxane</a>.]

Other upcoming events for Celgene include the mid-February FDA drug approval decision date for pomalidomide in late-stage multiple myeloma (I expect approval); and top-line results from the so-called "MM-020" study in first-line multiple myeloma comparing Revlimid and low-dose dexamethasone against the combination of Thalomid, melphalan, and prednisone. The control arm regimen makes this study a tough challenge.

Also on Monday, I'm curious to see Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (KYTH), a recent IPO that promises to deliver us all from unsightly underchin fat; and Vivus (VVUS), which seems to be steadily increasing the availability of the weight loss pill Qsymia but is still dogged with concerns about a slow launch. Biogen Idec (BIIB) might uses its presentation slot on Monday to announce top-line results from a pivotal study of dexpramipexole in the muscle-wasting disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS.). I have no view on the likelihood of success, although I would caution that ALS is an extremely difficult disease.

Gilead Sciences (GILD - Get Report) presents Monday afternoon but probably won't say much because management usually reserves financial guidance for quarterly conference calls. Edwards Lifesciences (EW) is worth a look too, even though it's not biotech. The company's transcatheter valve replacement technology faces a host of challenges over the next few years and the outcome remains uncertain. Those dynamics usually make for good investment opportunities.
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