Unlike March Madness, This ACC Is a Winner

Betting on the Atlantic Coast Conference wasn't a good move to help you win your NCAA tournament pool. Only one of the five teams from the ACC made it as far as the Sweet 16.

On the other hand, the other ACC -- the American College of Cardiology -- can make you some serious dough. The heart meeting wrapped up this week. Here are some products to keep your eyes on.

Lower cholesterol but...
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
(NAS: REGN) and Sanofi have a drug for patients who aren't being helped by statins alone. In combination with Pfizer's Lipitor, at the highest dose, REGN727 cut bad cholesterol levels by 72%. The solid result certainly justifies pushing the drug into phase 3 development.

The only problem I see is that the drug has to be injected. Fortunately, it's only an every-two-weeks administration, but that's still not as easy as popping a pill daily.

If it makes it to market, REGN727 might have competition as well. Amgen is developing a drug called AMG 145 that goes after the same target, the protein PCSK9. And Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NAS: ALNY) has one as well, although its drug, ALN-PCS, uses RNAi, a promising but less-proven technology. Regeneron's and Amgen's drugs are both antibodies that block PCSK9 by binding to it.

The never-ending battle
The battle of the next-generation blood thinners has been going on at ACC for years. And it doesn't seem to be stopping now that Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa and Xarelto from Bayer and Johnson & Johnson are on the market in the U.S., and Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYS: BMY) Eliquis is on its way after being delayed by thee months until June 28. Fortunately, there are multiple indications where blood thinners are used, so there's likely room for multiple players.

Johnson & Johnson, for instance, presented data on the use of Xarelto in treating blood clots in the lungs. The drug was as effective as heparin and warfarin at treating the clots and preventing new ones. Heparin has to be injected and warfarin is a drug cardiologists love to hate because of its narrow therapeutic window, so being as good as the current standard of care should be good enough.

Eliquis looks to be the winner for treating atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat. At ACC, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers presented data from the two phase 3 trials that the FDA is currently reviewing. There were no surprises, which is a good sign since the top-line data looked pretty good.

A meta-analysis of data from trials testing Pradaxa, the older discontinued drug Exanta from AstraZeneca, and warfarin showed that warfarin actually had a lower incidence of heart attacks than the newer medications. But doctors will likely take the meta-analysis with a grain of salt, especially since warfarin can cause internal bleeding at doses that are too high.

Don't forget the devices
Cardiology is probably the biggest area in which medical devices compete alongside drugs to help patients, so investors shouldn't lose track of them even if they're mostly interested in the drug side.

Edwards Lifesciences  (NYS: EW) and Medtronic both presented data for their heart valve replacements. Both Edwards' Sapien and Medtronic's CoreValve demonstrated low levels of strokes in patients after treatment. Sapien is already approved for patients too sick to undergo open-heart surgery, while CoreValve is expected to hit the market in 2014.

St. Jude Medical (NYS: STJ) was on the defensive at ACC this year. Reports of problems with the device-maker's Riata defibrillators were more than just some bad press. The wires that produce the electric shock have become frayed in some devices. And not just in one place: In two-thirds of the wires that had failed, there were multiple defects.

St. Jude stopped selling the devices over a year ago, but there are still thousands of patients that have the device inside them. Given the difficulty in replacing them -- it requires another heart surgery -- doctors might think twice about using St. Jude's newer defibrillators as well.

More than once a year
It's important to keep up with companies developing heart drugs and devices year round, not just after the ACC every March. You can make your life easier by adding them to My Watchlist, the Fool's free watchlist service. Add all the companies in this article (and get a free account if you need one) by clicking here. Or you can add individual companies with the links below.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of St. Jude Medical, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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