AbbVie rides high on Humira sales in Q4 but looks to new products for success in 2015

AbbVie ($ABBV) posted promising fourth-quarter earnings fueled by the strong performance of blockbuster Humira. But the company is looking beyond its top-selling med in 2015, focusing on the development of new products to bolster its bottom line as it counters generic competition to some of its key moneymakers.

On Friday, the North Chicago, IL-based company reported worldwide adjusted Q4 sales of $5.37 billion, up 5.1% from the previous year's quarter. Sales growth was driven primarily by Humira, which brought in $3.36 billion in worldwide revenues during the quarter--a 10.6% leap from Q4 2013.

But AbbVie knows that Humira's reign won't last forever. The company's $11 billion blockbuster already has a biosimilar challenger in India from local drugmaker Zydus Cadila and is set to go off patent in the U.S. in 2016. And the 1% concentration version of AbbVie's Low T med Androgel will see copycats spring up early this year. The company's proposed merger with Shire ($SHPG) could have lessened its reliance on its top-selling meds and further diversified its product line. AbbVie called off the deal in October in light of new, strict rules for tax inversions, agreeing to pay a $1.64 billion breakup fee to the Dublin-based pharma.

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez

There could be light at the end of the tunnel for AbbVie as it concentrates on new drugs such as hep C cocktail Viekira Pak to pad its numbers. The company posted $48 million in U.S. sales for Viekira Pak during Q4 2014, and the product is expected to generate more than $2.5 billion in sales for AbbVie during the coming year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

But Viekira Pak faces competition from Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) hep C powerhouse, Harvoni, whose $10 billion peak sales estimates cast a dark cloud over AbbVie's nascent hopes for Viekira. In December, AbbVie kicked off a pricing war with Gilead, inking a deal with Express Scripts ($ESRX) to sell its drug at a "significant discount" off Viekira Pak's $84,000 price. Gilead struck back with deals of its own, signing pacts with four major insurers to make Harvoni the primary option for patients.

Still, AbbVie is "pleased" with how pricing has proceeded for Viekira Pak and plans to conclude a "number of contracts" within the next 30 days, CEO Richard Gonzalez told investors during the company's Q4 earnings call on Friday. Approximately 1,100 Viekira prescriptions have been written through Jan. 16, with the majority occurring during the first two weeks of January, Gonzalez said.

"We priced and rebated consistent with the value of our product and what we thought was appropriate to the market, and we did it with a disciplined approach," Gonzalez said. "We have to see how the rest of it plays out."

In the meantime, AbbVie is also looking to other meds to soften the blow from Humira's loss of exclusivity. Parkinson's drug Duodopa posted success in international markets with $56 million in sales, and Gonzalez sees the product bringing in $500 million to $750 million in sales over the long term. The company is also casting an eye toward MS therapies, Gonzalez told investors.

"The MS space is attractive," he said. "If we saw the right opportunity come along that could build us some critical mass in the space, we would be interested in that."

- here's the earnings statement
- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

Special Report: The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Humira