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Biotech Stock Mailbag: Vertex Pharma

Stocks in this article: VRTX GILD ANX OPXA ARQL VRUS ITMN

While reviewing the Biotech Stock Mailbag Readers' Portfolio last week, I noted the absence of any short-sale picks in the portfolio. This prompted Evan F. to write:

" You misstate that no one recommended a short sale in the BSMRP portfolio. I, in fact, called to short Vertex at $42.15 and I stand behind it. Just setting the record straight."

True. Evan is right. What I told him in response and repeat now is that I only received two short-sale recommendations for the BSMRP. His Vertex short was one; the other came from a reader recommending a short in Cell Therapeutics (CTIC). Neither short recommendation made the final BSMRP because they didn't garner enough votes. Looking back, the Cell Therapeutics short would have been profitable, better than the long (and underwater) Cell Therapeutics position currently in there.

Michael M. writes, " Adam, I saw on that an analyst, I think MKM Partners, talked about Gilead Sciences (GILD) having an interest in buying InterMune (ITMN). Any thoughts?"

Gilead could buy InterMune. Or Gilead could buy Pharmasset (VRUS). How about Vertex or United Therapeutics (UTHR)?

I've heard mergers-and-acquisition conjecture connecting Gilead to all of these companies (conjecture being the operative word). All could have a strategic fit within Gilead, although there are equally as forceful arguments to be made against any of these rumored deals.

Gilead's M&A track record to date is mixed. The acquisition of Triangle Pharmaceuticals in 2002 was brilliant because it brought the company the HIV drug Emtrvia, which Gilead then combined with its own HIV drug Viread to form the blockbuster combo-pill Truvada. Later deals acquiring Myogen and CV Therapeutics, however, have not yielded comparably positive returns for the company or shareholders to date, which leaves a lot of investors with a queasy feeling when thinking about Gilead possibly venturing forth to gobble up another company.

Sanford Bernstein biotech analyst Geoff Porges (one of the smartest, most thoughtful biotech analysts in the business, by the way) says managing a growing cash stash is something Gilead management must address in the near term. The company net cash balance is expected to rise from $2.9 billion last year to more than $22 billion in 2015, Porges says.

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