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A Cure for Cancer?

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer are “the most conservative ways to play the war against cancer,” Cramer said Monday. Both companies own strong drug pipelines, the stocks are cheap, and the share prices are down since their late October earnings reports, giving investors a great entry point.

Cramer said he’d be highlighting all week the companies on the cutting edge of fighting cancer. While Bristol-Myers and Pfizer aren’t pure plays on the disease, they do run sizable, and still growing, oncology divisions that qualify them as part of the treatment vanguard.

You might say the companies’ move into cancer research is driven by fear: BMY and PFE are close to losing patent protection on their two most important drug franchises, Plavix for cardiovascular problems in 2012 and Lipitor for cholesterol in 2011, respectively. But they’ve responded with smart acquisition strategies that have diversified their stable of drugs and seem strong enough to make up for the losses.

Bristol-Myers has taken over seven companies since October 2007, most recently Medarex in July, paying a 90% premium to double BMY’s pipeline. Bristol-Myers also expects a $1.75 billion payout from Mead Johnson Nutrition , in which it owns an 83% stake. Add in the $7.9 billion in cash already on hand, and that’s more than $9 billion for more acquisitions.

As for Pfizer, Cramer said, this is “a whole new drug company” as a result of its Wyeth buyout. In fact, he used to hate – his words – PFE, but now considers it “one of the most diversified health-care players out there.” The transaction will generate $4 billion in synergies and is expected to be additive to earnings in 2012. And while just 5% of Pfizer’s 2008 sales came from oncology, Cramer said the Wyeth deal would expand its footprint.

What about specific treatments? The most promising for Bristol-Myers, coming out of its deal with Medarex, was a Phase III drug for metastic melanoma, which could potentially fight lung and prostate cancer as well. But BMY also has Erbitux for colorectal, head and neck cancer, Sprycel for Leukemia, Ixempra for breast cancer and Taxol for breast, lung and ovarian cancer. Sprycel specifically represents a potentially great opportunity, Cramer said, as its sales jumped 40% year-over-year and it’s being tested for its viability in treating prostate and breast cancers.

Pfizer has 22 cancer drugs, the top performers being Aromasin for breast cancer, Camptoar for colorectal cancer and Sutent, a small molecule drug that inhibits the flow of blood to tumors. Cramer noted Sutent as Pfizer’s biggest opportunity, saying that last quarter’s sales came in above expectations and growth in the future could come from ongoing treatment of kidney, lung, liver and prostate cancer. The drug has suffered a few setbacks, but there are still six Phase III trials in Sutent that have yet to report, meaning this could be a “major blockbuster cancer drug” with multiple indications.

BMY and PFE pay out 5.7% and 3.8% dividend yields, respectively, and they’re both trading at just about one time their growth rates. That is Cramer’s definition of cheap, so “they’re great opportunities for all but the youngest investors.” The twentysomething set might want a little more risk, and, as a result, a little more potential upside.

Cramer's charitable trust owns Bristol-Myers Squibb.

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