Top U.S. drugmakers ride new products to strong results

Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:27pm EDT
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By Bill Berkrot and Ransdell Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Growing sales of expensive new cancer drugs and other newer medicines propelled top U.S. drugmakers Pfizer Inc (PFE.N: Quote), Merck & Co (MRK.N: Quote) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N: Quote) to stronger-than-expected third-quarter profits.

The results, announced on Tuesday, demonstrate that the "patent cliff" that had been hurting earnings as huge-selling drugs like Pfizer's Lipitor and Bristol's Plavix went generic is now well behind these companies.

Shares of all three rose as they also modestly raised their full-year forecasts.

Merck's Keytruda and Bristol-Myers' Opdivo, both immunotherapies for advanced melanoma and lung cancer, and Pfizer's Ibrance for breast cancer are off to strong starts, with Wall Street forecasting eventual multibillion-dollar sales. Keytruda and Opdivo list for about $150,000 for a year of treatment, and Ibrance goes for about $118,000.

In addition, blood clot and stroke preventer Eliquis, which Pfizer and Bristol share, has begun to take off and is on track for annual sales of nearly $2 billion.

"This is the best innovation-based new product cycle in these companies' storied histories," said Suntrust Robinson Humphrey analyst John Boris. "Eliquis is just knocking the cover off the ball."

Merck and Bristol are testing their new immuno-oncology drugs in numerous combinations and in dozens of different types of cancer.

Pfizer said it expected to introduce a drug from the same PD-1 class as Opdivo and Keytruda in 2017, with one or more additional launches each year through 2022. It plans to have 10 new immuno-oncology drugs in clinical testing by next year.   Continued...

The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in New York April 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly