AbbVie beats forecast as Humira sales surge

By Ransdell PiersonReuters

AbbVie Inc on Friday reported stronger-than-expected results for the third quarter, as booming sales of its Humira arthritis treatment and Synthroid thyroid replacement drug more than offset lower demand for other medicines.

Shares of the drugmaker, which was split off at the beginning of the year from Abbott Laboratories Inc , rose 2.4 percent.

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Humira, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn's disease and other conditions, is the world's top-selling prescription drug. Sales have risen steadily since it was introduced in 2002.

The injectable drug's global sales soared 19.1 percent to $2.77 billion in the quarter, outpacing 16 percent growth in the prior quarter.

Humira accounted for almost 60 percent of total sales, illustrating AbbVie's growing reliance on a product that will lose U.S. patent protection in late 2016.

Many analysts, however, expect sales of Humira to keep growing after its patent expires because it may take many years for generic drugmakers to develop and win approvals for complex "biosimilar" forms of the biotech drug.

In the meantime, AbbVie is hoping to develop and market lucrative new drugs, including oral treatments for hepatitis C that could be approved by early 2015 and a promising treatment called ABT-199 for various blood cancers.

"The AbbVie story is good as long as Humira grows, and it's growing above expectations," said Barclays analyst Tony Butler, who said the quarterly sales topped his forecast by $100 million. Humira sales were helped by a 15 percent price increase in the United States over the past year, he added.

Morgan Stanley analyst David Risinger predicted Humira's annual sales will jump another 30 percent, to $13 billion, by 2016.

"It should have peak sales similar to Lipitor," Risinger said, referring to Pfizer Inc's cholesterol fighter, which had been the world's top-selling drug until it lost patent protection in late 2011.

AbbVie said it had earned $964 million, or 60 cents per share, in the third quarter, compared with $1.59 billion, or $1.01 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding write-downs of intangible assets and other special charges, profit was 82 cents per share. That was 4 cents above the analysts' average estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company, based in suburban Chicago, raised the low end of its 2013 earnings forecast to $3.11 per share from $3.07, while keeping the high end at $3.13.

Sales rose 3.3 percent to $4.66 billion, beating Wall Street expectations of $4.52 billion.

Synthroid sales jumped 23 percent to $161 million, while sales of Creon, a digestive enzymes drug, rose almost 10 percent to $101 million.

But sales of TriCor and Trilipix, drugs used to lower blood fats called triglycerides, fell 88 percent to $39 million due to competition from cheaper generics.

Sales of AndroGel, a topical testosterone gel, and of HIV treatment Kaletra, both fell 11 percent.

Shares of AbbVie were up 2.4 percent at $49.09 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Adler)