Is BTG plc a better buy than GlaxoSmithKline plc?

British investing great Neil Woodford has said several times that the pharmaceutical industry is one of Britain’s great strengths, and is worthy of investing in. Prime candidates for your portfolio include AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and Shire.

But a lesser known name, BTG (LSE: BTG) is actually one of the fastest growing pharma firms in the UK.

BTG’s latest results are impressive

But just who is BTG? Well it’s a company that develops speciality pharmaceuticals and interventional medicine in the areas of critical care, cancer and varicose veins. It also has a revenue stream from royalty payments on partnered products, and it has operations in Europe, North America and Australia.

BTG has just released its latest results. They are impressive, with a doubling of profits for the year ending 31 March. Pre-tax profits come in at £57.5m, with revenue forecast to increase by 8-15% next year.

So this is a company that has been growing earnings and profits rapidly. Earnings per share is expected to progress from 5.00p in 2013 to 23.14p in 2017. That is a rapid pace of growth, and justifies the firm’s high P/E rating. Small cap investors should take note.

How does it compare with a pension fund stalwart like GlaxoSmithKline? Well, Glaxo is a completely different kind of beast. It’s not fast growing, but aims to produce a consistent level of profitability each year. It is a far larger business. And its route to expansion is through emerging markets such as China.

GlaxoSmithKline looks to China for expansion

One thing that GlaxoSmithKline does have over BTG is a high dividend yield. The past year’s income was 5.49%, and the firm is likely to maintain or increase this payment into the future.

Glaxo also has faced a range of difficulties in recent years. Its much vaunted drugs pipeline has led to the launch of several new drugs, but none of these have been blockbusters — they turned out to be “me-too” treatments that are just additional options for doctors to prescribe. Meanwhile there have been a number of patent expiries.

However, the company hopes to expand in regions where healthcare spend is increasing rapidly, notably China, India and other emerging markets. And the firm has strengths in areas such as HIV treatments and vaccines, as well as a healthy consumer products arm.

Buy BTG for growth, but buy GlaxoSmithKline for income

So which of these businesses should you buy into? Well, I would say it depends entirely on what you are looking for. If you are a risk-taking growth investor on the look-out for the next big thing, then it has to be BTG. But if you are a more cautious investor who likes to accumulate and then reinvest those dividend cheques, then you should look no further than GlaxoSmithKline.

But I agree with Neil Woodford that Britain’s pharma industry is one that shows rich promise.

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It's a well-known company with a brilliant track record and an impressive growth rate, with many similarities to BTG. And we at the Fool think that this is an excellent opportunity.

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Prabhat Sakya 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.