* Says 4th-quarter Eylea sales were $276 million
* Sees substantial opportunity for growth outside U.S.
* Shares down 5.2 percent (Adds CEO comment from presentation, share price)
By Bill Berkrot
Jan 8 Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc on Tuesday forecast U.S. sales of its fast-growing eye drug, Eylea, of $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion in 2013.
Wall Street was disappointed by the initial sales outlook, sending Regeneron's high-flying shares down 5 percent. Regeneron's share price more than tripled in 2012 as the U.S. biotechnology company repeatedly raised its Eylea sales forecast over the course of the year.
Regeneron said sales of the product for wet age-related macular degeneration - the leading cause of blindness among the elderly - were $276 million in the fourth quarter and $838 million for 2012.
Regeneron Chief Executive Len Schleifer, speaking at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, pointed out that Eylea recorded strong fourth-quarter sales despite major holidays and a giant storm that disrupted business in the Northeast.
Schleifer, whose comments were monitored via webcast, called Eylea's first year "one of the top launches in the history of our industry."
Noting that Tuesday is the 25th anniversary of the start of the company, Schleifer quipped, "we thought we'd be successful. We just thought we'd be successful a lot quicker."
In addition to increasing Eylea's U.S. sales through new patients and approvals for additional uses, such as diabetic macular edema and retinal vein occlusion, Schleifer called the opportunity for Eylea sales outside the United States "very substantial."
He said the company was working with partner Bayer AG to launch the drug in several countries.
"We know we're in for a dogfight. Novartis is very tough, but Bayer is up to the task," Schleifer said. Novartis AG markets Eylea's main rival, Roche Holding AG's Lucentis, outside the United States.
Regeneron shares were down 5.2 percent at $173.11 on the Nasdaq on Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Debra Sherman in Chicago; editing by Jeff Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)