With the EU referendum less than two weeks away, many investors may be wondering how they can make their portfolios more defensive in case of short-term share price falls. While no sector is likely to be immune from uncertainty in the wake of Brexit, some may fare better than others. One industry that could prove to be more resilient than most is healthcare since its performance is less dependent on the performance of the wider economy than is the case for most other sectors.

One healthcare company with huge appeal is GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK). Not only are its returns less positively correlated with those of the wider index, the company also offers significant diversity and growth potential. For example, it’s a world-class vaccine and pharmaceutical company, with a number of consumer healthcare brands also offering added diversity. And with GlaxoSmithKline’s treatment pipeline consisting of around 40 drugs and being well-diversified, it seems to offer excellent long-term growth as well as a defensive profile.

Due to this, GlaxoSmithKline could prove to be relatively popular among investors if Brexit does occur. And due to it having a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of just 1, it seems to offer a favourable risk/reward ratio whatever happens on 23 June.

Well-positioned for growth

Similarly, Alliance Pharma (LSE: APH) could prove to be a strong defensive play if Brexit occurs. It has recently acquired a number of treatments from Sinclair Pharma and this broadens Alliance Pharma’s product offering as well as its geographic exposure. This should equate to greater resilience in the company’s financial performance in the long run and could improve investor sentiment towards the stock in case of an uncertain period.

Moreover, with Alliance Pharma forecast to increase its bottom line by 8% this year and by a further 9% next year, it seems to be well-positioned to deliver upbeat growth numbers. Due to its PEG ratio being 1.3, it appears to offer significant upside whether Brexit occurs or not.

Price still too high?

Meanwhile, Indivior (LSE: INDV) has been a star performer in 2016, with the opioid dependency specialist recording a 12% rise in its valuation since the turn of the year. However, with Indivior forecast to record a fall in its bottom line of 29% in the current year and a further 17% next year, investor sentiment could come under pressure over the medium term.

That’s especially the case since Indivior trades on a forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 14.9, which indicates that the market hasn’t yet fully priced-in its declining earnings performance. And while Indivior may prove to be less dependent on the macroeconomic outlook compared to its index peers and may offer a less volatile shareholder experience due to it having a beta of just 0.6, there appear to be better options available elsewhere.

A better option?

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Peter Stephens owns shares of Alliance Pharma and GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended GlaxoSmithKline. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.