* New melanoma drug Yervoy off to strong start
* Q2 sales $5.43 bln, topping $5.04 bln forecast
* Q2 EPS, excluding items, $0.56 vs. forecast of $0.55
* Raises 2011 profit view to $2.20-$2.30/shr
* Shares up 2 pct in late afternoon (Adds analyst comment, updates shares)
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, July 28 Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's (BMY.N) second-quarter sales blew past Wall Street forecasts, helped by surprisingly strong demand for the new Yervoy melanoma drug, and the company raised its 2011 profit forecast.
U.S. regulators approved Yervoy in March for patients with advanced melanoma. Some analysts expect its annual sales to reach up to $6 billion eventually, as it is the first approved drug shown to extend survival of such patients.
Yervoy, given by infusion and costing $120,000 for a full course of treatment, chalked up second-quarter sales of $95 million -- well above industry forecasts.
"To come up with nearly $100 million in sales right out of the gate is fantastic," said Credit Agricole Securities analyst David Maris, who had projected Yervoy sales of $20 million.
Bristol-Myers, whose shares rose 2 percent, is counting on Yervoy to help cushion the blow from an expected plunge in revenue from Plavix, the world's second-biggest medicine. The blood clot preventer, which has annual sales of $7.5 billion, loses U.S. patent protection in May.
"Bristol provided an overall quality beat, from top to bottom" without cutting back on spending necessary to promote Yervoy and develop its pipeline of experimental drugs, Maris said.
The company plans to seek U.S. approval later this year for a newer blood clot treatment called apixaban that is deemed a potential multibillion-dollar blockbuster. It prevents strokes among patients with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.
"Bristol-Myers remains hands down the best pipeline story among the U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies we cover," Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said in a research note on Thursday.
But Standard and Poor's analyst Herman Saftlas said Bristol-Myers shares trade at a big premium to the drug sector, at almost 13 times expected 2011 per-share earnings, because the company has had more success developing new drugs than most rivals.
"The stock is expensive; we think it is adequately priced," said Saftlas, who has a "hold" rating on Bristol-Myers.
The company nudged up its full-year 2011 profit forecast to between $2.20 and $2.30 per share, excluding special items. Its prior outlook was $2.10 to $2.20.
"The real good news today is that the company is raising its 2011 forecast by 10 cents, when they beat by only a penny in the quarter," Maris said. "That shows underlying strength and the company's belief in its business."
Bristol-Myers provided no outlook for 2012, but affirmed its 2013 forecast of $1.95 per share, which would represent about a 3.5 percent decline from 2012 based on Wall Street projections of $2.02 for next year. That suggests relatively stable earnings in the first full year after Plavix goes generic.
Bristol-Myers earned $1.31 billion, or 52 cents per share, in the second quarter, compared with $1.27 billion, or 53 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding special items, it earned 56 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 55 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Bristol-Myers' effective tax rate jumped to 27 percent in the quarter, from 20.4 percent a year earlier, holding back results.
Revenue jumped 14 percent to $5.43 billion, but would have risen only 10 percent if not for the weaker dollar, which boosts the value of sales in overseas markets. Sales sped past Wall Street expectations of $5.04 billion, helped by strong growth for Plavix, schizophrenia drug Abilify and other top company products, as well as Yervoy's debut.
Plavix sales jumped 15 percent to $1.87 billion, underscoring the importance of the medicine to Bristol-Myers and French partner Sanofi (SASY.PA).
Sales of Abilify, which doesn't cause the weight gains seen with rival medicines, rose 12 percent to $706 million. Revenue from Sprycel, a relatively newer treatment for leukemia, rose 46 percent to $193 million.
But sales of blood pressure treatment Avapro, already facing generic competition overseas and girding for it in the United States in March, fell 18 percent to $251 million.
Shares of Bristol were up 1.9 percent at $29.15 late on Thursday afternoon. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by John Wallace, Dave Zimmerman and Matthew Lewis)