By Ransdell Pierson
July 26 AbbVie Inc's reliance on its
Humira arthritis drug became even more evident during the second
quarter, when the product's sales jumped 12 percent and
accounted for almost 56 percent of the U.S. drugmaker's revenue.
And AbbVie officials on Friday forecast more big growth for
the world's best-selling medicine.
"Humira is off to a strong start in the first half of the
year, and as a result we now expect global Humira sales growth
of 14 to 15 percent" for the full year, excluding the impact of
foreign exchange, Chief Executive Rick Gonzalez told analysts on
a conference call.
He said sales of the drug, approved for rheumatoid arthritis
as well as psoriasis, Crohn's disease and other conditions, will
grow largely because of expected approval for new uses and its
adoption in more countries.
The bullish sales forecast comes in spite of new competition
for Humira, including a recently approved pill from Pfizer Inc
AbbVie, reporting second-quarter results on Friday, said
Humira sales vaulted to $2.61 billion in the period, putting it
on track to become a $10 billion-a-year cash cow. Sales of the
drug rose 16 percent in the first quarter, accounting for 51.7
percent of AbbVie's total sales.
The company plans to lessen its reliance on Humira by
developing lucrative drugs for other diseases, including oral
treatments for hepatitis C that could be approved by early 2015,
and a promising treatment called ABT-199 for various blood
Three experimental AbbVie drugs, used in combination, have
proven able to eliminate the potentially dangerous hepatitis C
liver virus in more than 90 percent of patients. That is well
above cure rates for current hepatitis C drugs, which cause
harsher side effects and are used for far longer periods.
AbbVie is racing against Gilead Sciences Inc and
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co to develop oral therapies for
hepatitis C that dispense with interferon, an injectable drug
used with current therapies that causes flu-like symptoms.
"It's a tight race, (but) we're feeling very, very good
about our position," Scott Brun, AbbVie's head of drug
development, said during the Friday conference call.
FAITHFUL CASH COW
In the meantime, all eyes remain on Humira, which has posted
strong growth, quarter after quarter, since it was approved in
2002. Some investors have nicknamed AbbVie "Humira Inc."
"We see AbbVie as essentially a Humira story until the
company is able to further diversify its business," JPMorgan
analyst Chris Schott said in a research note.
Rheumatoid arthritis, the biggest use for Humira, is an
autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakenly
attacks healthy tissue. It affects an estimated 1.5 million
Many analysts expect Humira sales to climb long after its
U.S. patent lapses in late 2016 because it will likely take
rivals years to win approval for "biosimilar" forms of the drug.
AbbVie and its array of patent-protected prescription drugs
were spun out early this year from Abbott Laboratories.
AbbVie reported better-than-expected second-quarter results
due to Humira's showing and sales growth of its Creon digestive
enzymes drug, Synagis to prevent lung disease caused by
respiratory syncytial virus, and Duodopa for Parkinson's
But sales of TriCor and Trilipix, drugs used to lower blood
fats called triglycerides, plunged 66 percent to $107 million
due to competition from cheaper generics.
The company earned $1.07 billion, or 66 cents per share, in
the quarter. Excluding special items, profit was 82 cents per
share, 3 cents above the average estimate of analysts polled by
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales totaled $4.69 billion, topping Wall Street
expectations of $4.54 billion.
AbbVie raised the low end of its full-year profit forecast.
It now expects earnings, excluding special items, of $3.07 to
$3.13 per share. In April it forecast $3.03 to $3.13.
The company said that in the year-ago second quarter, based
on sales of the same products it sells now, it earned $1.27
billion, or 80 cents per share. On the same basis, sales in the
latest quarter were up 4.4 percent from a year earlier.
AbbVie shares were up 1.5 percent to $44.91 near midday on
the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have jumped 29 percent
since the company went public at the beginning of the year,
compared with an overall 18 percent advance for the drug sector.
JPMorgan's Schott maintained his "neutral" rating on AbbVie,
saying it could take several years for its new drugs to arrive.