It is no secret that sexual prowess is highly sought after, especially as we grow older. The intense demand for sex hormone boosting therapies reflects this in the growing number of products that aim to boost the level of testosterone among men, and estrogen among women. The premise of my article is to understand the context of a testosterone gel being marketed by Abbott (ABT). Abbott's Androgel is a million dollar testosterone gel popular with aging men who are trying to find a quick fix for reduced sex drive, weight gain, fatigue and depression.
While it is true that testosterone can mitigate some of these problems, the results are not conclusive and the risks of using such a gel can more than outweigh the benefits. Androgel's website has a quiz targeted at men who may have sexual difficulties. It poses obvious questions that will invariably yield affirmative answers. Yet, those 10 questions are the same used to diagnose whether men have testosterone levels which are low enough to warrant the use of testosterone gel or require a visit to an endocrinologist.
Testosterone replacement therapy is highly debated and it is not clear whether middle-aged men need to be treated for what might be normal levels of male hormone given their respective ages. By convincing men to purchase testosterone gels and use them as needed, the pharmaceutical industry in general is sending a very wrong signal about how much it cares for people's health and safety. Many endocrinologists admit that a normal and healthy male would have a testosterone level between 300 and 1,000 nanograms per deciliter. This number is expected to drop below 300 as a man grows older, as in post-40. But, sexual difficulties can be experienced by men who have a normal and healthy level of testosterone as well, raising serious doubt about the necessity for testosterone replacement therapy.
Endocrinologists and pharmacological researchers point out that testosterone can be boosted by adopting healthy lifestyles which include regular exercise, protein-rich diet and staying healthy. However, those who have a seriously low level of testosterone can be prescribed these gels and patches by endocrinologists or physicians. Most women that I know who are menopausal know the risks of estrogen replacement therapies. They make calculated and informed decisions after consulting with medical practitioners and endocrinologists. Men on the other hand believe testosterone can help them build muscle mass, increase sexual drive, achieve firmer and long lasting erections and elevate mood magically. Unfortunately, these results are not achieved by using testosterone gels, and they may instead lead to undesirable consequences.
Pharma companies like Abbott have underlined the importance of making an informed decision, and that decision must always be made after consulting with physicians. Investors may want to note that the market for testosterone will only grow, no matter how the product is advertised. Middle aged men will continue to look toward testosterone replacement gels as a solution to their problems, increasing sales and revenue. While the target demographic is coaxed to become aware of the risks of using testosterone without a prescription, investors will stand to gain from the various testosterone boosting products that are increasingly being prescribed by physicians.
And, it is not just Abbott that has begun to market testosterone gels. Most of its competitors have their own versions of testosterone replacement therapies. Watson Pharmaceuticals (WPI) launched its Androderm patch, which releases testosterone into the blood stream directly, but slowly. This product has remained particularly popular with baby boomers who are growing older but desire a more active lifestyle. The Androderm patch brought in more than $87 million in sales last year. Eli Lilly (LLY) launched an even more attractive product - Axiron. Axiron works like a roll-on deodorant that needs to be rubbed into the arm pit. Obviously, the company targeted men younger than baby boomers by doing so. Axiron resulted in sales of $48 million. Pfizer's (PFE) Depo-Testosterone IM is an injection-based testosterone supplement that is prescribed to men and boys with low levels of the male hormone. But, bodybuilders and older men have abused this injection to achieve an ideal state of masculinity.
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) had reported that it is working on JNJ-37654032, which was touted as a neo-anabolic. The compound was purported to have fewer side effects than conventional anabolic steroids. Curiously, I could not find the latest information about JNJ-37654032 after 2008. It is not clear what Johnson & Johnson has planned about the future of this neo-anabolic. Merck (MRK) was in the news sometime ago because of its Propecia, which is suspected to interfere with testosterone levels in men. Propecia is a hair loss drug that attacks naturally occurring DHT (an androgenic hormone) and prevents hair loss. It does prevent hair loss, but also causes sexual side effects, some of which may be irreversible.
Of all these, I think Abbott is one of the best companies to invest in, even with the questionable nature of testosterone gels. Its rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira is a cash cow, and the company had total sales worth $2.3 billion in the second quarter. At $67.33, Abbott trades impressively. The company's market cap is $105.66 billion and it has an enterprise value of $112.53 billion, as of September 12th. With an operating cash flow of $8.75 billion and a free cash flow of $7.62 billion, Abbott is in a position to spend money on advertisements and campaigns such as the one it has launched for Androgel. It has a total debt of $18.09 billion, but that is not something I would worry about. If you are an investor, you certainly have many reasons to feel assured about Abbott's competitiveness in the short and long-term. If you are trying to boost your virility, purchase Abbott shares, but seek your endocrinologist's opinion before buying its testosterone gels.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.