What are biotech ETFs? Investing in innovative healthcare technology

The benefits and risks of investing in these ETFs

Kent Thune


Biotech ETFs offer investors a convenient way to gain exposure to the dynamic and innovative biotechnology sector without the need to individually select and manage biotech stocks.

These speciality healthcare ETFs may be attractive to investors who are interested in participating in the growth and advancements of biotech companies and the potential for breakthrough medical treatments. 

What is a biotech ETF? 

A biotech ETF is an exchange-traded fund that is specifically designed to track the performance of companies within the biotechnology sub-sector within the broader healthcare sector.

Biotechnology companies focus on the use of biological processes, organisms and systems to develop new products and technologies, with a particular emphasis on medical and pharmaceutical applications.

Biotechnology ETFs often aim to replicate the performance of specific market indices that track the biotechnology sector. For example, an ETF may seek to track an index like the Nasdaq Biotechnology index or the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry index.

Investors may choose to invest in biotechnology ETFs for various reasons including seeking exposure to the potential for growth and innovation within the biotechnology industry, diversifying their investment portfolios or capitalising on the prospects of biotech companies.

The largest biotech ETF listed in Europe is the $557m Invesco NASDAQ Biotech UCITS ETF (SBIO) which tracks the NASDAQ Biotechnology index of 211 stocks.

Investing in Biotechnology ETFs 

Biotechnology ETFs offer a range of potential benefits, including exposure to growth through innovation and diversification, however, investors should also weigh the benefits with risks such as volatility and regulatory obstacles. 

Pros of investing in biotech ETFs 

  • Exposure to growth and innovation: The biotechnology sector is known for its innovation and potential for breakthroughs in medical treatments and technologies. Biotech ETFs provide exposure to companies at the forefront of these advancements.  

  • Diversification: Biotech ETFs typically hold a diversified portfolio of biotechnology-related stocks. This diversification can help spread risk and reduce market risk compared to investing in individual biotech stocks. 

  • Accessibility: ETFs are traded on stock exchanges, making them easily accessible to investors. They can be bought and sold throughout the trading day, similar to individual stocks. 

  • Liquidity: ETFs are generally liquid investments, meaning they have high trading volumes and narrow bid-ask spreads, making it easy to enter and exit positions. 

  • Professional management: Biotech ETFs are managed by experienced portfolio managers, which means investors don’t need to make their own decisions about which biotech stocks to hold. 

Cons of investing in biotech ETFs 

  • Volatility: The biotechnology sector is known for its high volatility. Clinical trial results, regulatory decisions and news events can lead to significant price swings in biotech stocks, which can affect the performance of biotech ETFs. 

  • Regulatory risk: Biotech companies are subject to regulatory approval processes and clinical trial outcomes for new drugs and therapies. Delays or failures in obtaining approvals, which can take years, can affect the companies' stock prices and the ETF's holdings. 

  • Concentration risk: Some biotech ETFs may have concentrated holdings in a few key companies. A significant decline in one or more of these holdings can have a disproportionate impact on the ETF's performance. 

  • Lack of dividend income: Many biotech companies are growth-oriented and reinvest their earnings in research and development rather than paying dividends. Thus, biotech ETFs may not provide significant dividend income, which could be a consideration for income-oriented investors.

Bottom line on investing in biotech ETFs 

Investing in biotech ETFs can be a way to participate in the potential growth and innovation of the biotechnology sector while managing some of the associated risks through diversification. However, due to the sector's inherent volatility and specific challenges, it's important for investors to conduct thorough research, understand the ETF's holdings and investment strategy, and carefully consider their investment goals and risk tolerance before making investment decisions.

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