AbbVie Forecasts Sharp Earnings Hike

By Lauren PollockDow Jones Newswires

AbbVie Inc. (NYSE:ABBV) predicted sharply higher earnings for the new year, driven by rheumatoid-arthritis drug Humira and the launch of its new hepatitis C virus treatment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month approved the pharmaceutical company's Viekira Pak, an all-oral cocktail of several drugs that showed strong success in treating the liver disease in clinical trials.

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The treatment from AbbVie competes with Sovaldi and Harvoni from Gilead Sciences Inc . Each of the three drugs costs more than $80,000 per patient for a 12-week regimen, and the battle for supremacy in the fast-growing market has intensified with the pharmacy benefit managers taking sides and giving preferred status to the various treatments.

Abbvie said Thursday that it would further refine its guidance as the drug launch progresses. The company guided for earnings, excluding items, of $4.25 to $4.45 a share, in line with the consensus estimate of $4.33 a share from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The midpoint of that estimate marks a jump of more than 30% over the company's 2014 guidance.

The company added its outlook also considers an expected sales decline from several products, including AndroGel and the remainder of the lipid franchise, due to generic competition.

AbbVie walked away last year from $54 billion agreement to buy Shire PLC amid U.S. regulatory pressure over so-called inversion deals. The structure of the AbbVie-Shire merger would have enabled Illinois-based AbbVie to enjoy a lower tax burden by relocating to the U.K.

Pharmaceutical companies in general have experienced sales pressures as they lose patent exclusivity to big-selling drugs. For its part, AbbVie has been looking to lessen its reliance on Humira, which was the top-grossing prescription medicine of 2013 and was on pace to keep the title last year. The drug is slated to start losing its patent protection by the end of 2016.

AbbVie, which was spun off from Abbott Laboratories about two years ago, intends to offer more detailed guidance when it reports quarterly results on Jan. 30.