SAN FRANCISCO ( TheStreet) -- The biotech hordes should be in a jollier mood when they land here Monday for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.The biotech sector enters the new year at least partially recovered from the thrashing inflicted on stocks that began in the fall of 2008 and didn't end until last March. Since then, stocks prices have rebounded -- not back to their previous highs, but they're getting there. Perhaps more importantly, biotech companies were able to raise a lot of cash in the second half of last year to stave off extinction. For these reasons alone, the 28th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare confab should be much less austere than the 27th. Last year, attendance was down and the mood was funereal. Monday, I expect to see bigger crowds in the halls of the Westin St. Francis Hotel -- and more smiles. Biotech investors don't lack for opportunities to hear company executives pitch their stocks, but that doesn't stop people from flying to San Francisco every January for the J.P. Morgan event. This meeting stands out because investors come in with clean slates and companies use the time to set goals and agendas for the next 12 months. Big-cap biotech stocks fared poorly in 2009, so investors will be listening for reasons to own the stocks as turnaround plays for 2010. Genzyme's ( GENZ) Henri Termeer will be on the hot seat about his company's ability to recover from myriad drug manufacturing problems, and perhaps, about his own future as chief executive.
Once upon a time, Gilead Sciences ( GILD) CEO John Martin and his No. 2 John Milligan enjoyed a sterling reputation for flawless execution. No longer. Worries about the long-term growth potential of Gilead's HIV drug franchise have grown, made worse by recent setbacks in the company's efforts to diversify into other disease areas. For Amgen ( AMGN), 2010 is all about the approval and launch of its osteoporosis drug Prolia, as well as expected phase III data in various cancer indications. Amgen also faces the first serious threat to its bedrock anemia drug franchise this year, with Affymax ( AFFY) poised to announce phase III study results for its competing anemia drug in chronic kidney disease. Other story lines to watch next week: Medivation ( MDVN): A boffo performance in 2009 serves as the lead into highly anticipated data expected later this year from the first phase III study of Dimebon, the company's Alzheimer's drug partnered with Pfizer ( PFE). Amylin Pharmaceuticals ( AMLN): When -- or will -- U.S. regulators approve the company's long-acting diabetes drug Exenatide LAR? Mannkind ( MNKD): The company presents to investors on Tuesday, just four days before the FDA is supposed to issue an approval decision on its inhaled insulin product. Allos Therapeutics ( ALTH) and AMAG Pharmaceuticals ( AMAG): Both companies launched new drugs in 2009 (a lymphoma drug from Allos and a new iron replacement therapy from AMAG), yet their stocks slumped and investors seem concerned about the commercial potential for each. Arena Pharmaceuticals ( ARNA): The company's obesity drug lorcaserin is under review by the FDA. Are the data good enough for approval? And can Arena finally land a Big Pharma partner?
Not every biotech company gets invited to the J.P. Morgan party. The bulge bracket firm has to service its banking clients first, which leaves fewer presentation slots for small, early-stage biotech companies. This has been the unfortunate trend for the last several years. Thankfully, San Francisco also plays host next week to a couple of what I like to call "hangers on" biotech investor conferences devoted almost exclusively to small-cap stocks. One of my work-related resolutions for 2010 is to devote more coverage to small-cap stocks, including penny stocks, so I'll be venturing away from the J.P. Morgan confab to hear presentations from GenVec ( GNVC), Cytori Therapeutics ( CYTX), Adventrx Pharmaceuticals ( ANX), ImmunoCellular Therapeutics ( IMUC.OB) and Oxygen BioTherapeutics ( OXBT.OB), among others. -- Reported by Adam Feuerstein in Boston