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4Q Stock Wrap-Up: Go big or go home

Large cap biotechs up in 4Q for strong 2012; only micro-caps end year in red

Large cap biotechs were the only market cap segment to end 4Q12 in the black, finishing up 1% to post a 26% gain on the year. Small caps brought up the rear in 4Q, but only the micro-caps closed out 2012 in the red, down 5% on the full year.

The $5 billion-plus tier outperformed all segments for the year (see "Results by Market Cap").

Among large caps, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc. both had strong 4Qs and finished first and second, respectively, for the year.

Regeneron was up 12% on the quarter after again raising sales guidance for Eylea aflibercept, used for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The company's 3Q12 GAAP EPS of $1.72 soundly beat the Street's $0.95 estimate. Later in the fourth quarter, the company received a favorable opinion from EMA's CHMP for Zaltrap ziv-aflibercept for metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC).

Gilead gained 11% in 4Q12 thanks in large part to strong Phase IIb data for its fixed-dose HCV NS5A-nuc regimen of sofosbuvir, GS-5885 and ribavirin.

CSL Ltd. and Illumina Inc. led the large cap group for the quarter. CSL gained 17% after raising its 2013 profit guidance. Illumina, up 15%, continued to climb amid rumors of a Roche take out.

The poorest quarterly performances in the segment came from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., which shed 25%, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., which lost 18%. Vertex was hurt by disappointing sales of HCV drug Incivek telaprevir and cystic fibrosis (CF) drug Kalydeco ivacaftor. The Street attributed Alexion's fall to a lack of near-term milestones and profit taking.

Among companies in the $1-$4.9 billion tier, ThromboGenics N.V. gained 35% in 4Q after FDA approved Jetrea ocriplasmin to treat symptomatic vitreomacular adhesion (VMA). BioMarin Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose 22% following positive Phase III data for Vimizim elosulfase alfa (formerly GALNS) to treat mucopolysaccharidosis IVA (MPS-IVA; Morquio's syndrome).

Amarin Corp. plc was the worst performer among the mid-caps last quarter. It fell 36% after securing $100 million in debt and providing an update on launch plans for hypertriglyceridemia drug Vascepa icosapent ethyl in 1Q13. Amarin said it planned to hire a 250-300 person sales force but added that those plans did not affect its commercialization strategy, which includes three potential paths - an acquisition of the company, a partnership or self-commercialization.

Nektar Therapeutics lost 31% even as it reported positive Phase III data for opioid-induced constipation drug naloxegol. Prior to releasing the data, Nektar said FDA was investigating a potential cardiovascular class effect of mu opioid antagonists.

Two newly public companies with lead products in pivotal testing were the highlight of companies in the

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