NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ahead of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laying out her plan to tackle "price gouging" in the specialty drug market at an event in Iowa later today, analysts at research firms Jefferies and Piper Jaffray are recommending select biotech stocks that they view as buys amid the weakness in the space.
DEBATE: Biotech stocks broadly declined yesterday, with the NASDAQ Biotechnology index (IBB - Get Report) sliding roughly 4.4%, after privately-held Turing Pharmaceuticals made headlines by enacting a 5,000% price increase on a 62-year-old drug that fights complication of AIDS and cancer. Furor around the sudden price hike for Turing's Daraprim reignited a debate around drug prices that previously embroiled costly Hepatitis C drugs including AbbVie's (ABBV - Get Report) Viekira Pak and Gilead's (GILD - Get Report) Sovaldi and Harvoni. The news also follows Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issuing a letter in August to Valeant (VRX) and Pfizer's (PFE - Get Report) Hospira, in which he requested information on the "enormous" price increases of two drugs Valeant acquired earlier in the year. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent the debate to center stage yesterday by criticizing the "outrageous" prices of specialty drugs and promising to lay out a plan today to tackle "price gouging" in the specialty drug market. Clinton's proposal, which she'll outline in a speech in Iowa later today, would force pharmaceutical companies to reinvest their profits into research, allow for more generic and imported drugs and allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs and cap out-of-pocket expenses, according to details of the plan shared with USA Today. Zeke Emanuel, chair of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, appeared on Nightly Business Report to discuss the problem of high drug prices and his suggested solutions. During his interview, Emanuel contended that giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices may drive up prices for everyone else.
DEFENSES: The Jefferies Biotechnology research team, led by Brian Abrahams, Eun Yang and Biren Amin, say their Washington D.C. consultants indicate the recent political rhetoric around drug pricing is unlikely to result in any substantive future policy changes that would impact biotech sector fundamentals. As such, they recommend using yesterday's selloff to buy select companies including Celgene (CELG - Get Report) , BioMarin (BMRN - Get Report) and Alkermes (ALKS - Get Report) . Pricing concerns are nothing new, and will likely continue to be a headwind for the sector, the analysts tell investors in a research note. Hillary Clinton's proposal to combat drug pricing is likely to include "some combination of old and tried policies that have been out there for a few years," they write. The analysts also like shares of AMAG Pharmaceuticals (AMAG - Get Report) , Alder Biopharmaceuticals (ALDR) and Cempra (CEMP) . Meanwhile, Piper Jaffray analyst Edward Tenthoff recommends buying shares of Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX - Get Report) following yesterday's selloff. Tenthoff believes that drugs like Vertex's Orkambi will maintain premium pricing because of the disease modifying value to patients and payors. Orkambi is approved to treat cystic fibrosis in patients 12 years and older. The analyst reiterates an Overweight rating on Vertex with a $163 price target.
DOWNGRADE: Brean Capital analyst Difei Yang downgraded Horizon Pharma (HZNP - Get Report) to Hold saying "unsettling recent developments" make the stock's premium valuation no longer justified. The public discussion on high drug prices is a negative for the company while its attempt to acquire Depomed (DEPO) is unlikely to result in a completed deal, Yang tells investors in a research note. Further, Horizon's prescription trends are showing weakness, said Yang, who views the stock as more risky than in the past.
PRICE ACTION: Horizon closed yesterday down $2.93, or 9.2%, at $28.99, while Vertex dropped $5.97, or 4.8%, to $118.19. A number of the biggest stocks in biotechnology were also weak yesterday, with Gilead sliding about 2.5%, Amgen (AMGN - Get Report) dropping 2.3%, Celgene declining 2.8% and Biogen (BIIB - Get Report) falling more than 5.5%.