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Better Buy: Celgene Corporation vs. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) have gained plenty of attention recently as great healthcare value plays. My colleague Sean Williams included both stocks in his list of four top drug stocks that can be purchased on the cheap this fall. David Liang pointed to Celgene and Bristol as two "beaten-up blue-chip biotech stocks" to buy on sale. But which of these two stocks is actually the better buy for long-term investors? Let's look at how Celgene and Bristol-Myers Squibb compare.

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Celgene

I bought Celgene several years ago based largely on the success for its lead drug Revlimid. That turned out to be a smart move. And buying Celgene because of Revlimid still makes sense. The blood cancer drug generated sales of over $5.1 billion in the first nine months of this year, a 21.8% year-over-year increase.

Although Revlimid continues to impress, there are now even better reasons to buy Celgene shares. Put Otezla at the top of the list. The anti-inflammatory drug boasts the fastest growth of any product in Celgene's lineup. With two late-stage and two more mid-stage clinical studies in progress targeting additional indications, I think more growth could be on the way for Otezla.

Celgene is also seeing nice momentum for Pomalyst/Imnovid. Sales of the multiple myeloma drug in the first nine months of 2016 jumped 35% over the prior-year period.

There's even more to like in the biotech's pipeline. Celgene claims 14 late-stage programs. While several of these target indication expansions for existing drugs including Revlimid and Otezla, several are new candidates. I especially like ozanimod, which is in two phase 3 studies -- one targeting treatment of multiple sclerosis and another targeting ulcerative colitis.

Wall Street expects Celgene to grow earnings by 22% annually over the next five years. Celgene is even more optimistic, projecting annual earnings growth of 23% through 2020. That kind of growth seems achievable based on the biotech's current lineup and pipeline opportunities.     

The case for Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb can boast several products with impressive growth. Leading the way is Opdivo. Third-quarter sales of the cancer drug tripled compared to the prior-year period. During the first nine months of 2016, Opdivo generated sales totaling nearly $2.5 billion.

Eliquis wasn't too far behind. Bristol reported sales of almost $2.4 billion for the blood thinner during the first three quarters of this year -- nearly twice the amount generated in the same period of 2015.

There are a few trouble spots for Bristol, however. Sales for several drugs are on the decline, including hepatitis B drug Baraclude and the company's Sustiva HIV franchise. The company also can no longer count on significant revenue from antipsychotic drug Abilify after losing U.S. commercialization rights in April 2015.

The biggest worry for Bristol-Myers Squibb stems from disappointing results in a late-stage study of Opdivo as a potential first-line treatment for lung cancer. These results caused Bristol's stock to plunge as investors lowered peak sales expectations for Opdivo.

Bristol still thinks that Opdivo can achieve greater success in combination with other drugs. The company's pipeline includes a deep bench of oncology candidates, although many of these are in early-stage studies. Actually, Bristol's pipeline in general is skewed toward early- and mid-stage programs. Only one candidate is currently in phase 3 -- experimental prostate cancer vaccine Prostvac. 

There's one other thing for investors to really like about Bristol-Myers Squibb: its dividend. Bristol's dividend yield currently stands just shy of 2.7%. The company has historically ranked as one of the best Big Pharma dividend stocks

Better buy

I think the choice is pretty easy between Celgene and Bristol-Myers Squibb. While Bristol should perform well, Celgene is the better pick for long-term investors.

There's not much to dislike about Celgene. Revlimid, Pomalyst/Imnovid, and Otezla are rocking. Even though growth has tapered off for Abraxane, the cancer drug is still generating solid revenue. The biotech's pipeline appears to be strong with candidates like ozanimod and GED-0301. Celgene deserves the accolades it has received as a great biotech value play.

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Keith Speights owns shares of Celgene. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.