Eli Lilly's weak diabetes drugs sales cloud 2023 profit forecast

Feb 2 (Reuters) - Eli Lilly and Co (LLY.N) missed Wall Street estimates for fourth-quarter sales of both the closely-watched new type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro and its blockbuster treatment for the condition, overshadowing a better-than-expected 2023 profit forecast, and shares fell 6%.

The U.S. drugmaker has been leaning on Mounjaro to soften the hit to sales from price cuts for insulin, competition for cancer therapy Alimta and virtually non-existent revenue from COVID-19 antibodies.

Lilly said just over 50% of commercial and Medicare plans now had favorable terms for patient access to Mounjaro prescriptions, up from 45% in the previous quarter.

"We would have expected somewhat more of an uptick," SVB Securities analyst David Risinger said, calling the increase marginal.

Some doctors have been prescribing Mounjaro off-label as a treatment for obesity. The company is hoping for U.S. approval for weight loss later this year that could open a huge new market for the drug. Other diabetes medicines are also being used for weight loss.

Mounjaro sales of $279.2 million for the quarter came in below analysts' estimates of $319 million. Sales of its blockbuster diabetes drug Trulicity also fell short of expectations at $1.94 billion for the quarter.

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Total quarterly revenue of $7.30 billion was below Wall Street estimates of $7.33 billion. But breast cancer drug Verzenio was a bright spot, doubling from a year ago to $808 million for the quarter and topping analysts' expectations by more than $100 million.

The company sought to allay investor concerns over falling sales of older drugs, with Chief Executive David Ricks calling 2023 the "year of investment in future growth."

"But at the same time, we're not stepping back or rebuilding, we're growing. I don't know what other large cap pharma companies are growing 15% in their core business, but that's a pretty strong number," Ricks added.

The company's experimental drug for Alzheimer's disease is currently in clinical trials with results expected in mid-2023 that could be used to apply for regulatory approval.

Sales of the COVID-19 antibody treatment bebtelovimab were all but wiped out once the U.S. health regulator pulled its authorization after determining it would not be effective against currently circulating coronavirus variants. It had sales of just $38 million for the quarter, a 96% decline from a year ago.

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Eli Lilly forecast a 2023 adjusted profit of $8.35 to $8.55 per share, above analysts' expectations of $8.28, helped by the potential for the company's tax rate to be lower than previously thought.

Reporting by Bhanvi Satija in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Patrick Wingrove in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Bill Bekrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Bhanvi Satija reports on pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry in the United States. She has a postgraduate degree in International Journalism from City, University of London.