As the epidemic of addiction to prescription pain medications gained ever more national attention last year, a Wayne drug firm developing painkillers designed to be less prone to abuse had the best-performing stock in the Philadelphia region.
Shares of Egalet Corp., which employs 50 locally, soared 94 percent, to $11.02 from $5.59. Egalet generated its first revenues, from licensed products, in 2015 and applied last month for Food and Drug Administration approval of a morphine tablet that can't be chewed or crushed and snorted, which is one way addicts get a quicker high.
"All of those things - chewing, crushing to snort, or dissolving [to inject] are really, really difficult with our technology," which involves high-pressure molding of the tablets, Egalet's chief executive, Robert Radie, said in an interview Thursday.
Egalet, which went public in February 2014, beat Pep Boys - Manny, Moe & Jack for the top spot in a ranking of 107 publicly traded companies in the Philadelphia area whose shares were worth $3 or more at the beginning of the year. The firms also had to have a market value of at least $10 million.
Shares in Pep Boys gained 87 percent, climbing to $18.41 from $9.82, as the laggard in the automotive-parts supply and repair industry became the unlikely target of a takeover fight between billionaire Carl Icahn and the Japanese automotive giant Bridgestone.
Icahn snared the company this week for $18.50 a share.
Broad market malaise, which led to a slightly down year for the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, was reflected locally in 2015, with just 26 of the region's 50 biggest companies by market capitalization gaining in the year. In 2014, by contrast, all but eight were up.
Health care was the best-performing sector locally as well as nationally, according to the Russell 3000 Health Care Index, which was up 6 percent. Locally, the average gain for 18 health-care stocks was 18 percent.
Pharmaceutical firms joining Egalet in the top 10 local stocks were Trevena Inc., which was up 76 percent, and Incyte Corp., which gained 48 percent.
Shares in King of Prussia-based Trevena, which is working on drugs to treat heart failure, chronic pain, and depression, shot up 76 percent over two days in September after it released positive results from a pain-medication study.
Incyte, a biotechnology firm in Wilmington, has been riding sales of Jakafi, the first FDA-approved medicine to treat a rare blood cancer, to stock-market riches.
The company's market value has soared to $20 billion from $2 billion five years ago. It is now the fourth-most valuable company in the region, behind Comcast Corp., DuPont Co., and AmerisourceBergen Corp.
A newcomer to the top 10 was Trinseo S.A., a producer of plastics, latex, and rubber that was spun off by Dow Chemical Co. in 2010. Bain Capital, a private-equity firm, took the company public in June 2014, raising $218.5 million. Since then, the Berwyn company has met financial targets, such as reducing its debt load relative to cash flow. The stock gained 62 percent.
The region's dwindling number of publicly traded banks also had a strong year, with an average gain of 17 percent, as consolidation gained steam, driving up prices of those that have remained independent.
Matthew Schultheis, a bank analyst at Boenning & Scattergood Inc. in West Conshohocken, said bank executives were having a hard time getting the returns they'd like to see, given the still-difficult interest-rate environment. "It's easier to sell and let somebody else fix the problem," he said.
Among the local buyers was WSFS Financial Corp., of Wilmington, which bought Alliance Bancorp Inc. in October for $90.98 million and has a pending, $101 million deal for Penn Liberty Financial Corp. WSFS's stock climbed 26 percent.
Souderton-based Univest Corp. of Pennsylvania bought privately held Valley Green Bank last January for $76 million and agreed to pay $243.4 million for Fox Chase Bancorp Inc., of Hatboro, last month.
Only two of 18 local banks in the Inquirer analysis lost value. Those were Bryn Mawr Bank Corp., down 8 percent, and the Bancorp Inc., which was down 42 percent after the Wilmington company restated more than four years of financial results to account accurately for losses on discontinued operations.
In keeping with the volatile nature of early-stage drug companies, two were among the region's 10 biggest losers.
Onconova Therapeutics Inc. fell 36 percent on one day in February, on bad results from a study. Shares of Newtown-based Onconova closed the year at 96 cents, down 71 percent. In summer 2013, they peaked at $29.40.
TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals Corp. lost 64 percent of its value, as the Malvern company in May withdrew a sale of shares that was supposed to raise $25 million.
It was a terrible year for energy stocks, as declining prices for oil and gas put the industry in free fall.
Penn Virginia Corp.'s 96 percent decline, to 30 cents a share from $6.68, made the Radnor firm the worst performer locally and in the Russell 3000 Energy Index.
Last month, the board decided to start paying nonemployee directors their $120,000 annual retainers in cash instead of stock.