Skip to main content

Imagine a business that cornered the market for managing drug company clinical trials, in the middle of a pandemic. That’s part of the story of IQVIA IMS Health ( (IQV) - Get IQVIA Holdings Inc. Report).

The Durham, NC-based company Tuesday reported third quarter financial results, and raised guidance for the upcoming quarter, too. Business is booming and there is more to come.

Despite the gains, investors should continue to buy shares.

IQVIA operates in a unique business segment. The company helps pharmaceutical firms find participants for clinical trials, and manage the process, including dealing with red tape.

The cost of drug development is mind-bending. Networks of physicians and investigators must be assembled. Patients need to be recruited. Regulatory submissions must be filed. Safety protocols have to be designed, implemented and monitored. And the data needs to be collected and analyzed.

Collecting all of the bloodwork alone is a Herculean task.

Research from Battelle, a global science and technology research organization, found the cost per participant ranged from $36,500 - $42,000. Some trials can have tens of thousands of participants. In 2013, 1,148,340 people were participating.

It’s a specialized business that pharmaceutical companies are all too willing to outsource.

In 2016, Quintiles, a health sciences research and development company, merged with IMS. The partnership created the biggest company in the sector with fantastic synergies.

IMS had been a health information company. It catalogues 780,000 streams of health care data taken from 45 billion transactions per year. These are anonymized medical records, diagnosis, prescriptions, and even blood test information. All of the data is collected and analyzed using the latest software tools.

The merger with Quintiles took these assets to the next level.

For example, the combined company is using advances in information technology to mix-in real-time social media monitoring, customer relationship management, and data analytics with its legacy R&D efforts. It’s an unbeatable data set for large drug companies looking to populate trials.

From the onset, its Next-Generation clinical offering began winning business, even from companies with no previous relationships.

Ari Bousbib, chief executive officer, told analysts in the first call after the merger that $600 million in new business had been won based on new products, pushing the backlog to an estimated $9.99 billion.

The timing was fortuitous. The Food and Drug Administration in 2017 began policy changes in support of more innovation, streamlining regulations. This led to more trials.

At the same time researchers started making real breakthroughs in immunotherapy and precision medicine, the idea that the right drug treatment could program a patient’s own immune system to fight disease.

IQV managers, in 2017, integrated its Master Data Management platform with Salesforce ( (CRM) - Get Salesforce Inc. Report). Then they packaged everything into IQVIA Core, a comprehensive platform, making it easier than ever for drug company clients to access data quickly.

They built the right platform to leverage the digital transformation of health sciences.

When the global pandemic hit in early 2020 IQV was the logical partner for big pharma. The business had all of the digital tools to speed innovation with data analytics, and the technical wherewithal to populate and manage clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines.

IQV managers Tuesday said profits surged to $101 million in Q3, up 77% year-over-year. And cash flow bumped up 45%, to $1.2 billion.

For the fourth quarter managers now expect revenues to be in the range of $3.04 billion to $3.19 billion, a boost of 5% - 10.2%.

Investors sent stock to a record high at $176, before shares began to back off slightly.

There is enthusiasm about IQV’s COVID-19 business. Being the premier clinical trial facilitator in the world is an enviable position in the middle of a global pandemic. However, that alone is not why the stock is moving higher. And it’s not why investors should buy shares, even near these levels.

IQV is well positioned for the next phase of medicine, where innovations are sped up by data analytics and advances in immunotherapy and precision medicine.

Shares trade at 21.6x forward earnings and 2.8x sales. These are reasonable levels given the prospect for more trials and faster drug approvals.

IQV shares could trade to $285 based on sales growth momentum and better margins. Buy the stock on pullbacks to the middle $160s.


For more tech stock analysis and specific picks, click here to get a free two-week trial subscription to Jon Markman’s newsletter Strategic Advantage. (He recommended Peloton Interactive (PTON) on March 15; it’s up 550%+ since.) … And for options set-ups and trades, click here to check out his Tactical Options letter.