Today I’ll be explaining why I think GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and BTG (LSE: BTG) could provide the perfect balance of defensive income AND exciting growth potential for investors looking to gain exposure to the pharmaceuticals sector.

Growth at a very reasonable price

Specialist healthcare firm BTG has enjoyed phenomenal success in recent years with revenues and earnings rising steeply since the start of the decade. Indeed, underlying earnings per share have doubled from 11.4p in 2012 to 21.9p reported recently for FY2016. Annual results to the end of March revealed a doubling of pre-tax profits to £57.5m, compared to the £26.7m reported a year earlier, with revenues rising 22% year-on-year to £447.5m.

The FTSE 250 company is making good progress in implementing its growth strategy, which centres around geographic expansion, product innovation and ‘indication expansion’. BTG is also expanding its portfolio through M&A activity, with the recent acquisition of US-based Galil Medical cementing the company’s leadership in interventional oncology.

The City expects BTG’s growth story to continue, with analysts talking about an 8% rise in earnings this year to £91m, with a further 30% improvement pencilled-in for FY2018. This would leave the shares trading on a price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of just 22 for the year to March 2018, which is well below historical levels for this classic growth stock. For me, BTG offers significant upside potential for investors looking for growth at a very reasonable price.

Breath easier with Glaxo

Blue chip drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline had something to cheer about last week when it announced positive results from the Salford lung study for the company’s Relvar Ellipta treatment for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and affects around 3m people in the UK alone. Small victories like this are important for the long-term future of large drugmakers such as Glaxo that have been affected by patent expiries and generic competition for some of its treatments.

However, although not completely unscathed, Glaxo has been less affected than some of its rivals. And with a strong pipeline of drugs in research & development, it should give investors some confidence about the company’s longer-term prospects. The medium-term outlook looks promising too, with consensus forecasts suggesting a healthy 16% rise in underlying profits to £4.27bn this year, followed by a further 4% improvement to £4.46bn in 2017.

Glaxo currently trades at fair value in my opinion, with a forward P/E of 17 for this year, falling to 16 in 2017, which is on a par with the recent past. But investment in Glaxo is always about the dividend, and the company continues to reward shareholders with prospective yields of around 5.5% forecast until 2019. Attractions remain for investors looking for high-income low-risk exposure to the pharmaceuticals sector, and Glaxo nicely offsets the risks associated with high-growth plays such as BTG.

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Bilaal Mohamed has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BTG. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.