AbbVie Profit Tops Estimates as Arthritis Drug Sales Rise

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AbbVie Inc. reported first-quarter results that exceeded analysts’ estimates, lifted by sales of its top product Humira, the rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

Profit of 94 cents a share, excluding some items, beat the 85-cent average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Total revenue rose 10 percent to $5.04 billion, exceeding the $4.98 billion average projection.

Humira, which makes up more than half of AbbVie’s sales, pulled in $3.11 billion in revenue in the quarter, compared with the $3 billion average estimate. Profit also benefited because expenses only rose at half the rate of sales, and because hedging programs and the makeup of AbbVie’s operations helped protect against swings in currencies in developed markets, like the euro.

“Humira seems unstoppable,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Sam Fazeli said in an e-mail. “It was a real beat mostly driven by operational growth, but also the positive effect of foreign exchange on their margins.”

AbbVie shares fell 0.4 percent to $64.25 at the close in New York.

First-quarter sales of Viekira Pak, AbbVie’s new hepatitis C treatment, reached $231 million, in line with analysts’ estimates. The company is using discounts to battle Gilead Sciences Inc. for hepatitis C patients, part of the company’s strategy to reduce its dependence on Humira. Last month, the company agreed to buy Pharmacyclics Inc. for $21 billion, gaining control of a blockbuster blood cancer therapy.

Raised Forecast

Including the Pharmacyclics transaction, AbbVie said it expects earnings of $4.10 to $4.30 a share this year, higher than its forecast last month of $4.05 to $4.25.

AbbVie disappointed investors earlier this year when it said its new hepatitis drug would take until the end of 2015 to be on pace for more than $3 billion of annual sales, below analysts’ projections at the time. The company reiterated the forecast Thursday.

Viekira Pak is part of a new generation of drugs that do away with side-effect-heavy, less effective treatments for the liver infection. AbbVie has been competing with Gilead to get insurers to cover the drug, a race that will help determine the U.S. market for the treatments, which can cost $1,000 a day. Merck & Co. also has a medication in development. AbbVie struck an exclusive deal with Express Scripts Holding Co. after giving a significant discount to the company, the nation’s largest manager of drug-benefit plans.

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