AbbVie CEO lauds Humira in first earnings guidance

Humira serves as AbbVie's foundation.--Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez has full confidence in the new company's super blockbuster Humira. Not only did the rheumatoid arthritis drug outperform market expectations last quarter, but it will also power the company's cash flow for years to come, he said today. Of course what else could he say? It is the foundation of the newly spun off AbbVie ($ABBV) and the company has to lean on it for at least a couple more years until its pipeline pours some drugs on the market.

"There's not a better asset in the pharmaceutical industry than Humira," Forbes reports Gonzalez saying during an earnings call with analysts today.

And Humira so far is coming through for the new company, which was spun off at the first of the year from Abbott Laboratories ($ABT). Humira sales were up 17% last year to $9.27 billion, Reuters reports. Sales in the fourth quarter were up 23% to $2.68 billion, beating forecasts by about $200 million. Humira is expected to be the world's best-selling drug this year but AbbVie's forecast for low double-digit sales in 2013 are a bit shy of what analysts had hoped.

Morningstar analyst Damien Conover tells Reuters he thinks the company is just playing it safe with the numbers. "Their Humira growth forecast is a little less than people expected, but our view is that it's a conservative estimate," said Conover, who is telling clients to expect 17% growth for the drug in 2013.

AbbVie also sold $1.15 billion worth of its testosterone drug AndroGel last year, its No. 2 product by revenue.

Humira loses patent protection in 2016, but by that time AbbVie hopes some of the drugs in development will be through trials and approved. Those include its interferon-free treatment for hepatitis C. There's huge expected demand for oral therapies that can quickly wipe out hep C without the need for interferon, which patients take for up to a year and which causes flu-like symptoms. That drug is targeted for the market in early 2015. Bloomberg reports that the company also mentioned its development of drugs for multiple sclerosis and multiple myeloma. 

- here's the Forbes story
- here's the Reuters story
- get more from Bloomberg