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Biotech 2011 Kickoff Party: Investor Preview

SAN FRANCISCO (TheStreet) -- The biotech industry descends on the City by the Bay starting Sunday for a week of investor meetings, networking, deal making and partying all centered on the 29th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Biotech investor conferences are a dime a dozen but the J.P. Morgan confab is the oldest, largest and still the most important because of tradition, location (in the birthplace of biotech) and timing. Companies and investors come into this early January meeting with clean slates and use the forum to set goals and agendas for the next 12 months.

2010 was a mixed year for biotech. The biotech sector outperformed the S&P 500 (barely) but sentiment for a large part of the year was negative, dragged down by healthcare reform concerns, European drug price cuts and overall economic uncertainty. Many large institutional investors abandoned or scaled back healthcare investments in 2010 as a result. Drug approvals and merger-and-acquisition activity -- two vital measures of the health of the biotech sector -- were down in 2010.

What's in store for biotech in 2011? J.P. Morgan's senior biotech analyst Geoff Meacham, who will emcee next week's conference, is bullish:

"Looking to 2011, we think the tone in the sector will improve, and as a result, we are broadly bullish on the biotech sector, more than we have been over the past two years," Meacham told his clients in a Monday research note. "Historically, revenue upside (not EPS upside) has been a critical determinant of biotech outperformance, and in this regard the consensus revenue growth for the sector looks too low to us at 8%. More than 25 products could be in launch mode in 2011, which should fuel higher top-line growth for the sector and may drive multiple expansion. Couple this with a favorable M&A and capital markets environment as well as well-known risks from US/EU pricing that are largely assumed in models and we think that the biotech sector is well positioned in 2011."

I'll be in San Francisco next week to cover and analyze all the breaking biotech news, rumors and goings-on at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference.

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