Bristol-Myers immunotherapies soar, but Eliquis haul tops the charts

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has been riding high thanks to its lead in the ultrahot immuno-oncology space. But in Q4, it wasn't just its cancer stars that pitched in to help revenue beat expectations.

The company pulled in $4.29 billion for the period, topping a consensus estimate of $4.15 billion and raising its tally by 1% over last year's Q4. The revenue beat drove EPS to surpass expectations, too, with profits totaling 38 cents--10 cents more than Wall Street forecast.

Immuno-oncology standout Opdivo stole the show, recording an enormous leap to $475 million for the quarter. CEO Giovanni Caforio told investors on the company's earnings call that Bristol was "very pleased with the performance" of the drug--which is in a race for label expansions with Merck's ($MRK) Keytruda--"and particularly the acceleration" it displayed in Q4.

High unmet need in a new population for the drug--those with advanced kidney cancer--has helped power its ascent, as has a broad label in lung cancer and a "very strong commercial execution," he noted.

The New Jersey drugmaker only expects its IO dominance to continue. It's busy testing Opdivo in tandem with Yervoy--the company's first immunotherapy, which also safely cleared fourth-quarter expectations--and targeting areas like head and neck cancer, which is an area that looks "very exciting," co-commercial chief Murdo Gordon told shareholders.

But it was new-age anticoagulant Eliquis that led the charge revenue-wise, expanding by 114% year-over-year to rake in $602 million. After years of underperforming, the slow-starting blood-thinner toppled analyst predictions of $534 million, and Gordon told investors on the call that Bristol was "seeing strength in Eliquis across all major markets."

The drug now leads in new-to-brand scripts among cardiologists, he noted, which the pharma sees as an indicator across the entire market. And it's confident about its shot at overtaking Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Bayer's Xarelto and Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, the two drugs it trails in its class.

And when it came to putting up the largest individual product beat, it was the company's hep C meds that took the cake for the third straight quarter, grabbing $458 million to shatter $376 million consensus estimates. In the past, Bristol has cautioned for a slowdown in hep C sales, given heavyweight competition around the world from Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV), Bernstein's Tim Anderson wrote in a note to clients. "But this is clearly not happening yet."

As for this year? BMS expects to see worldwide revenues increase in the mid-single-digit range, with EPS coming in between $2.30 and $2.40--in line with where analysts predicted. "It had been a big question whether guidance would crush consensus," Anderson wrote. This range "will likely be called 'conservative.'"

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