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Biotech Funds: Enter With Care

Take the (FBIOX) Fidelity Select Biotechnology fund. It has the lowest expense ratio, 0.97%, of the 10 funds and a better performance for the year to date, last three years and past five years. The five-year return is a loss of 0.21%, but that's up against the average loss of 1.33%.

Manager Rajiv Kaul ran the Select Biotech during the late 1990s, when the fund exploded higher under his tenure. However, when he assumed control of two midcap growth funds, his performance was unimpressive. One fund badly trailed its peers, and another simply matched the performance of those in its category, according to Morningstar.

Kaul has decreased his exposure to some of the largest holdings in Select Biotech while spreading the wealth around to some smaller names such as Myogen (MYOG), which makes therapies for cardiovascular disease.

Despite the manager's track record in nonbiotech funds, Fidelity's offering is probably the best of the group because of its low cost and manager's experience.

Unfortunately, the other decent funds have sky-high loads or minimum investments. (ETHSX) Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Science sports a 5.75% load and a 1.56% expense ratio, meaning you would need to be a long-term holder to make this one worth your while. Over the past five years, the fund has gained 3.06%. Only three out of eight funds with five-year track records have advanced over that time period.

The Eaton Vance fund is 70% invested in biotech, and the rest is in pharmaceutical makers like Novartis (NVS) and Schering-Plough (SGP).

The key to Eaton Vance's success is manager Sam Isaly, who heads Orbimed Advisors. Isaly has been investing in health care companies for nearly four decades. He runs hedge and private equity funds along with the Eaton Vance fund. While allocating his share of assets to the large-caps such as Amgen and Genentech, the manager prefers to invest in smaller names that may not even have products in the marketplace.

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