(Reuters) - Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc (REGN.O) on Thursday reported a profit that exceeded Wall Street estimates for the sixth consecutive quarter as sales of its new Eylea eye drug for the leading cause of blindness in the elderly continued to soar.
Eylea, which improves vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration, saw U.S. sales rise to $276 million in the fourth quarter despite major storms that disrupted business in the Northeast during the period. Eylea sales were $244 million in the previous quarter.
The biotechnology company reaffirmed the 2013 Eylea sales forecast of $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion it issued in January.
But investors accustomed to Regeneron consistently raising Eylea forecasts sent the companies high flying shares, which have tripled over the past 14 months, down more than 3 percent.
"Obviously Regeneron has been a fantastic performer driven by their macular degeneration drug Eylea," said Piper Jaffray analyst Edward Tenthoff.
But he said the drug has already seen solid penetration into U.S. clinics and that investors were likely to see less of the company beating Eylea sales expectations and raising forecasts going forward.
Eylea is sold by Germany's Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE) outside the United States.
"Our partner Bayer HealthCare has begun to launch Eylea in Japan, Europe, Australia, and other regions, and we expect to see substantial sales growth through 2013 and beyond as pricing approvals are received," Regeneron Chief Executive Leonard Schleifer said in a statement.
The company is also in late stage testing of Eylea for two other eye conditions that could further expand sales with eventual additional approvals.
On an adjusted basis, Regeneron earned $1.22 per share, beating analysts' average estimates of $1.10 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
It posted a fourth-quarter net profit of $470 million, or $4.08 per share, compared with a loss of $53.4 million, or 58 cents per share, a year earlier.
Regeneron had preannounced its fourth-quarter results.
"The one surprise was that the beat was driven by a one-time tax gain," Tenthoff said.
Total revenue for the quarter more than tripled to $414.6 million, topping Wall Street estimates of $392.6 million.
The drug Zaltrap, which was approved in the United States in August to treat colorectal cancer, had sales of $23 million for its first full quarter.
Regeneron shares were down $5.85, or 3.4 percent, at $164.50 in midday trading on Nasdaq.
Additional reporting by Esha Dey and Pallavi Ail in Bangalore; Editing by Roshni Menon and Leslie Gevirtz