Growing revenue for promising new medicines for cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions helped U.S. drugmakers improve results after several disappointing quarters and beat Wall Street expectations.
Buoyed by the stronger third-quarter results and rising prospects, Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. raised their 2015 profit forecasts, and their share prices rose as the broader markets declined.
Switzerland's Novartis struggled, though, weighed down by lower sales in its Alcon eye care unit and other factors.
All four drugmakers were hurt by unfavorable exchange rates cutting the value of foreign sales, which are made in local currencies, by at least 7 percent.
Excluding that, sales were up somewhat — mainly due to strong launches of new drugs that are significant medical advances. That, and the companies' planned launches of new drugs in the next several years, bodes well for their futures.
Including the currency hit, revenue edged down 2 percent for Pfizer, which is rebounding after five years of generic competition slashing its revenue.
The New York company still posted $12.09 billion in revenue, beating the average Street forecast of $11.49 billion.
The maker of pain and fibromyalgia treatment Lyrica said net income dropped 20 percent to $2.13 billion. Adjusted earnings came to 60 cents per share, trouncing the 51 cents analysts expected.
The world's second-largest drugmaker benefited from surging sales for new drugs and key, slightly older ones, including Eliquis for preventing heart attacks and strokes, which it markets with partner Bristol-Myers, and Prevnar 13, a vaccine against pneumonia and ear and other infections.
They helped counter costs from Pfizer's $17 billion acquisition of Hospira, the world's top maker of sterile injectable drugs, a fast-growing field. Hospira also gives Pfizer a stronger position in developing biosimilars, near-copies of pricey biologic drugs produced in living cells.
Pfizer raised its adjusted annual profit forecast to $2.16 to $2.20 per share, its second increase since buying Hospira.
Merck & Co. more than doubled third-quarter profit, its best performance in a while, though heavy cost-cutting was the main reason. Net income totaled $1.83 billion, or 64 cents per share, and adjusted income hit 96 cents per share. Analysts expected 91 cents.
Revenue was $10.07 billion, down 4.6 percent including the foreign exchange hit and lost sales from the consumer health products unit it sold last year.
Merck's Keytruda, part of the hot new class of drugs that fight cancer by harnessing the immune system, posted sales of $160 million. Januvia and combination pill Janumet, among the most popular Type 2 diabetes drugs, boosted combined sales growth of 10 percent, to $1.58 billion.
The world's fourth-biggest drugmaker, based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast to $3.55 to $3.60 per share, from $3.45 to $3.55.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. posted revenue of $4.07 billion, up 4 percent and above the $3.85 billion analysts expected. Surging sales of key new medicines — Eliquis, melanoma and lung cancer drug Opdivo and hepatitis C pill Daklinza — led the way.
However, net income dipped 2.1 percent to $706 million, or 42 cents per share, due to lower revenue from alliance partners and double-digit increases in spending on research and advertising.
Adjusted earnings per share came to 39 cents a share; analysts expected 35 cents.
New York-based Bristol-Myers, the world's 15th biggest drugmaker, raised its adjusted profit forecast for 2015, to $1.85 to $1.90 per share, from $1.70 to $1.80.
Novartis, the world's largest drugmaker, said net income fell 42 percent to $1.81 billion, largely on the sale of its hepatitis drug unit a year earlier and provisions for legal settlements and fees. A year ago, Novartis was boosted by a one-time gain.
Novartis said the integration of businesses from a multibillion-dollar business unit swap with rival GlaxoSmithKline PLC earlier this year, which brought Novartis Glaxo's cancer drug business, is on track.
Net sales rose 6 percent to $12.3 billion, excluding a 12 percent hit from currency fluctuations.
Generic competition for its Diovan and Exforge blood pressure treatments and Exelon Patch, an Alzheimer's treatment, cut into sales.
Gilead Sciences Inc., the maker of groundbreaking hepatitis C drugs Harvoni and Sovaldi, had the strongest results of the group, reporting an impressive 68 percent increase in third-quarter profit after the stock market closed.
Propelled by the two drugs, it hiked its revenue forecast for the third time this year, to a range of $30 billion to $31 billion, but left its adjusted profit forecast at 82 cents to 87 cents per share.
Harvoni and Sovaldi, which can cure more than 90 percent of patients in eight to 12 weeks, dominate the market over rival AbbVie Inc.'s Viekira Pak, a multi-pill regimen, but new competitors, such as one from Merck & Co., could hit the market as early as January and cut into Gilead's gold mine.
Gilead said net income rose to $4.6 billion, or $3.06 per share. Adjusted earnings per share came to $3.22; analysts were expecting $2.90. Revenue jumped 37 percent, to $8.3 billion.
Sales of Harvoni, launched late last year, hit $3.33 billion, an astounding total for a new drug to rack up in such a short time. Sovaldi sales are being trimmed as more patients and doctors choose Harvoni, but it still had sales of $1.5 billion.
The company's five HIV drugs — Truvada, Atripla, Stribild, Complera and Viread — also dominate that market. They had combined sales of about $2.9 billion in the third quarter.
CEO John Martin said three new HIV combination treatments are awaiting approval by U.S. and European Union regulators, one could be approved next week and all three could be approved in the next six months.
Gilead shares rose 2.1 percent in regular trading, to $110.96, then gave back 2 percent in after-hours trading, falling to $108.75.
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