The pharmaceutical industry has been a source of extraordinary returns for investors who have picked the right stocks. Since the end of World War II, five of the top 30 performers in the U.S. stock market have been drugmakers, and some of them have achieved this feat in a relatively short time span.
For example, Pfizer (PFE) stock would have turned an initial investment of $10,000 into more than $1 million if you had bought it in 1981. By comparison, the same amount invested in some of the best-performing mutual funds over this period would have failed to eclipse the $900,000 mark.
What makes pharma stocks so lucrative? Many factors contribute to their unusual growth, such as the increasing demand for healthcare from an aging global population and the worldwide expansion of access to medical services. But the most important factor is innovation.
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The development of novel technologies has enabled pharma companies to target diseases once thought undruggable. In turn, this innovation bonanza has allowed leaders in the space, such as Amgen and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN 1.39%), to reward shareholders with massive wealth creation.
Fortunately for investors born after the advent of monoclonal antibodies and similar technologies, the industry is about to usher in yet another innovative technology that promises to be a major wealth escalator for early stakeholders. The tech is known as CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. This major advancement in the field of gene therapy allows clinicians to make precise modifications to human DNA, thereby facilitating the correction of disease-causing genes.
While there are a couple of intriguing gene-editing companies on the public markets today, Intellia Therapeutics (NTLA -4.32%) arguably stands out as one of the most attractive from a capital appreciation standpoint. Partnered with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals on its lead program for transthyretin (ATTR) amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, the duo is gearing up to launch the therapy known as NTLA-2001 into a pivotal phase 3 study before year-end.
What's the big deal? Although investors have been locked onto company fundamentals over the past 24 months, Intellia's real appeal is its deep value proposition. With a broad pipeline, the gene-editing pioneer could realistically sport three to perhaps four blockbuster therapies within the next 10 years.
Of course, CRISPR/Cas9 still has a lot to prove in the clinic, and this bull scenario is far from a sure thing. But there's also a real possibility that investors are witnessing the birth of a major new modality -- one the market simply isn't appreciating at the moment.
To wit, Intellia's shares are trading well under 3 times cash on hand, and its shares have taken a 52% haircut over the prior 12 months. That's an odd market reaction to a company steadily making progress in the clinic on a possible blockbuster with a novel mechanism of action.
Savvy investors, though, may want to take advantage of this weakness. After all, the industry's top performers over the past 80 years have all experienced their fair share of ups and downs in response to changes in market sentiment. Yet, they have all generated life-changing gains for early shareholders.
Intellia stock -- while risky -- could be the next pharma stock to turn its loyal shareholders into millionaires, and this time, it shouldn't take 40-plus years to do it.
CRISPR/Cas9 has already gone from a neat idea to a possible commercial product in only 10 years' time, and the tide for the space appears to be turning with the first-ever product from this class seemingly poised to become a commercial reality soon. As such, this clinical-stage biotech may indeed warrant an investment of, say, $10,000 leading into the start of its upcoming phase 3 trial, despite the ongoing bear market in biotech and the general grumpiness of the broader markets.
George Budwell has positions in Pfizer. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Intellia Therapeutics and Pfizer. The Motley Fool recommends Amgen. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.