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Should You Follow Neil Woodford And Buy GlaxoSmithKline plc, AstraZeneca plc, Circassia Pharmaceuticals PLC, Oxford Pharmascience Group Plc And ReNeuron Group Plc?

Neil Woodford has been an investor in the pharmaceuticals industry for most of his long career. In a recent blog, the ace fund manager wrote: “The pharmaceuticals sector is no longer as cheap as it was but it still looks very attractive in my view, capable of delivering very attractive long-term returns”.

A whopping 34% of the CF Woodford Equity Income fund is invested in the healthcare sector, compared with the FTSE All-Share index weighting of less than 9%.

GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK), AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), Circassia Pharmaceuticals (LSE: CIR), Oxford Pharmascience (LSE: OXP) and ReNeuron (LSE: RENE) are just five of Woodford’s holdings in the sector.

FTSE 100 giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca need little introduction. With market capitalisations of £76bn and £57bn, respectively, they are among the bluest of blue chips.

Glaxo currently trades on a forward P/E of 17.3, while Astra trades on 16.3. These earnings ratings may not appear particularly cheap, but as high dividend yields of 5.1% and 4.1% suggest, it is the prodigious cash generation of these mature companies that is the big attraction.

Glaxo and Astra are among the cornerstones of Woodford’s fund. Astra is his biggest holding, weighted at 7.8% of the portfolio, while Glaxo stands at number four with a 6.3% weighting. If you’re in the market for some solid blue chips, these two giants are certainly worth considering.

Oxford Pharmascience and ReNeuron are both capitalised at around £60m, and both companies are targeting areas of unmet medical need. Oxford Pharmascience redevelops already-approved drugs to make them better, safer and easier to take. ReNeuron is a leading, clinical-stage stem cell business.

Oxford Pharmascience is expected to post a loss before tax of £3.5m for 2014, but to swing to a £15m profit this year, giving the company a P/E of under five. ReNeuron is expected to post annual losses in the region of £10m through to its financial year ending 31 March 2016, but is forecast to post a £26m profit the following year. ReNeuron’s P/E is similar to that of Oxford Pharmascience, adjusting for ReNeuron’s later move to profitability.

Circassia has a market capitalisation of over £500m, but isn’t expected to be profitable in the near future. However, the company does have cash of £187m to absorb forecast annual losses of around £60m in 2015 and 2016.

Circassia is developing allergy treatments that build up immunity quicker than traditional remedies and without the risk of anaphylactic shocks. The company’s most advanced treatment is for cat allergy, and it has six other treatments in the pipeline.

Woodford is excited about the prospects of Circassia, Oxford Pharmascience and ReNeuron — and you may be, too, if you’re looking for higher-risk investment ideas — but it should be noted that each of these three companies has a weighting of less than 0.4% in the CF Woodford Equity Income fund.

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G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK 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.