SAN FRANCISCO -- Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) is often mentioned as a takeover target, but the company is evaluating potential acquisitions and partnerships of its own to diversify beyond cystic fibrosis.

"We, of course, look at everything in cystic fibrosis," said Vertex Chief Operating Officer Ian Smith, in an interview at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. "But we also have an interest in diversifying the pipeline beyond cystic fibrosis."

Vertex is seeking opportunities to add drugs that target rare, orphan and inherited diseases. Some of this will come from internal research and drug development, augmented by acquisitions and in-licensing, said Smith.

Among the diseases that interest Vertex: Huntington's disease, sickle cell disease and spinal muscular atrophy, Smith said.

"We have early research programs underway and we could add on externally," he said.

Vertex CEO Jeff Leiden also discussed non-cystic fibrosis drug development during his J.P. Morgan presentation, highlighting programs in additional rare diseases. (A slide from his presentation follows.)

Vertex enters 2017 with $1.43 billion in cash and has $300 million outstanding from a line of credit. Operating expenses are being held relatively stable while revenue growth continues, Leiden said. 

Vertex is also diversifying the technology used to treat diseases beyond small molecules. The company has existing partnerships with Moderna in RNA and Crisper Therapeutics (CRSP) for gene editing.

In cancer, Vertex intends to let others do the buying. The company has several cancer compounds in its pipeline today but is more likely to out-license them rather than spend R&D money to develop them internally, Smith said.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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