In a bull market that has propped up a wide range of sectors and industries, few have benefited as much as biotech stocks.

The bigger biotechs, such as Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD) and Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN), have helped the Nasdaq Biotech Index post a two-year return of 120% -- triple that of the S&P 500. A few dozen smaller biotechs have even done far better than that.

#-ad_banner-#Positive FDA clinical data has boosted once-obscure biotechs such as Puma Biotech (Nasdaq: PBYI), Clovis Oncology (Nasdaq; CLVS) or Acadia Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ACAD), 250%, 300% and 1,500%, respectively, over the past two years. Intercept Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ICTP), which I discussed a few months ago, shot up 400% in just one week.

The two-year timeframe is essential if you hope to score those kinds of gains. Any biotech stock that is just a few quarters away from delivering meaningful late stage clinical trial data has already caught investors' interest, so some of the gains have already been tallied. With a two- or even three-year time horizon, you can try to identify earlier-stage biotechs that are just starting to garner Wall Street chatter.

To be sure, this is an industry where it pays to hear what analysts are saying. Sure, they may be biased in their outlooks and price targets in hopes of landing investment banking work for their firms. But these analysts usually have a rigorous grounding in medicine and are better able to assess the scientific merits of a particular drug than a layman can. With that in mind, here are four early- to mid-stage biotechs for which analysts have high hopes and lofty price targets.

1. Dynavax (Nasdaq: DVAX)

I've been tracking this vaccine maker for a few quarters now after writing about the company a few months ago. Shares initially surged above $2 at the start of 2014 but have drifted back down to levels seen last November.

Part of the blame goes to a decision last month to withdraw an existing application for European approval, which means that any launch in Europe for virus-fighter Hepislav won't take place until 2017, two years later than previously thought. (Good thing that the company shored up the balance sheet in 2013, as Dynavax now has $189 million in cash.)

The nearest-term catalyst for Hepislav is the imminent enrollment in safety trials here in the U.S. The trial could help strengthen this drug's prospects in Europe as well, as European regulators delayed its approval process due to a too-small sample size of safety data thus far.

Beyond Hepislav, which is targeting hepatitis B, Dynanax also has a promising drug, known as AZD1419, to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) is helping to test the drug, and the two firms have a multi-tiered royalty and milestone agreement in place.

Though shares languish below $2, analyst at MLV see more than 150% upside to their $5 price targets, solely on the basis of Hepislav's projected revenue streams. Any value generated by AZD1419 would be pure upside from that price target.

2. Enteromedics (Nasdaq: ETRM)

Though biotech firms are focused on drugs that may face large market niches, small medical device makers have similar hopes and dreams, and can be seen as the same kind of high-risk/high-reward situations as biotechs are. (I profiled this company for our sister site at the end last year.)

Though this company's market potential remains intact, the time-frame has changed since my December review. Just a few days ago, Enteromedics announced that the FDA will review its VBLOC technology on June 17, roughly a quarter later than previously anticipated. As I noted back in December, FDA approval (and an eventual well-executed sales launch) could send this stock up more than 200% to Northland Securities' $7 target price.


If you would rather not wait several years for a biotech stock to fulfill its potential, then Chelsea Therapeutics (Nasdaq: CHTP) may represent a more compelling near-term option.

The company recently received approval for Northera, a drug which treats NOH (neurogenic orthostatic hypotension). Though Chelsea aims to launch the drug later this year, companies like this often end up seeking a buyer that already has an existing sales force to peddle a new drug. The company has already stated that it is considering "strategic alternatives," which is a code for putting out investment banking feelers. On a stand-alone or a buyout basis, JMP Securities sees shares rising more than 125% to $12.

4. Synergy Pharma (Nasdaq: SGYP)

I looked at this clinical-stage drug developer nearly a year ago and since then, shares swooned and have returned right back to levels seen a year ago.The erratic price movement can be attributed to a weakening balance sheet that was eventually rescued by a 2013 capital raise. (This article on Seeking Alpha provides a good update on the company's status.)

The good news: As that article notes, a pair of updates regarding clinical trials could help boost confidence that Synergy's plecanitide drug will prove to be more popular than rival Ironwood Pharma's (Nasdaq: IRWD) Linzness. Though approval for Synergy isn't guaranteed, the data thus far have been so robust that approval looks likely.

Why would this stock have at least 100% upside? Because Synergy is valued at $550 million, while Ironwood is valued at $1.64 billion. If and when Synergy's Plecanatide is approved, its market value may end up being higher, thanks to comparatively stronger efficacy and tolerability for its drug.

Risks to Consider: Biotechs have most been in favor for the past few years, but fell out of favor last summer, leading to rapid share price drops. Investors need to have the stomach to handle such sentiment shifts.

Action to Take --> This is an incredibly fertile area for robust share price upside. Right now, investors should start tracking all of the biotechs that came public in 2013, as many of them are likely to drift off of the hot-money radar and down to levels that create compelling long-term entry points. Many of the firms that went public in 2013 will likely to need to raise more capital before any drug hits the market, which is the biggest risk when investing in this sector. The four stocks profiled here all have solid balance sheets and don't carry that level of risk.

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