Biotech Stock Lessons From 2013 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Confab

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The 2013 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is in the books. Here's what I learned:

Investor mood was bright, not unexpected given the biotech sector's relative outperformance in 2012. The conference failed to produce any headline-grabbing news and no major deals were announced (unlike last year) but that didn't seem to bother anyone.

Dig a bit deeper, as I did, and you definitely heard concerns about an inevitable correction in biotech stocks. No one was predicting when the sell off would occur, just that it was going to happen. Biotech short sellers believe the momentum of the past year is unsustainable, and quite frankly, absurd. Those investors who favor the long side agreed that a repeat of 2012 was unlikely but they also see the sector on healthier footing. A correction, when it happens, is an opportunity to buy quality biotech stocks at more attractive valuations.

Among the big-cap biotechs, Celgene ( CELG) emerged from J.P. Morgan as the big winner. The stock is already up 23% this year, outperforming Gilead Sciences ( GILD), Amgen ( AMGN) and Biogen Idec ( BIIB). While 2013 earnings guidance was in-line with Street expectations, Celgene offered for the first time 2017 guidance of $13-14 per share -- a big number and impressive growth for a company its size, if accurate. The Celgene growth story has traditionally revolved around the multiple myeloma drug Revlimid, but not so much for 2013, 2014 and beyond, with Pomalyst (pomalidomide), Abraxane and apremilast stepping up in big ways.

Gilead's hepatitis C drug pipeline is moving steadily toward phase III data later this quarter and regulatory filings in the second quarter. No surprises. An interesting tidbit from Gilead's breakout was management mulling a phase III study of its newly acquired (from YM BioSciences ( YMI)) myelofibrosis drug CYT387 pitted directly against Incyte's ( INCY) Jakafi.

"We're good at head-to-head comparison studies, said Gilead President John Mulligan.

I admire that "go big or go home" attitude. Let's hope we see a CYT387 vs. Incyte study started later this year. Meantime, during its breakout, Incyte executives trashed CYT387, calling the drug a weak competitor that's too far behind to matter. Sounded to me as if Incyte was running scared.

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