AbbVie's Humira turns in 18% surge in sales


AbbVie's Humira is the gift that just keeps on giving, and it presented the still-young drugmaker with a very big boost in the first quarter, powering its sales and earnings well beyond what had been projected.

Sales of the rheumatoid arthritis drug, for now the best-selling drug in the world, were up 18.4% to $2.637 billion, making up more than 57% of the drugmaker's Q1 revenue. It also amounted to a 6.7% boost to AbbVie's ($ABBV) $4.563 billion in revenues for the first quarter, well above the $4.33 billion the market had expected, Reuters reports.

Since Humira is AbbVie's only significant product at this point, it is critical for the drugmaker that it perform well while it develops new products to take its place. It is pinning its hopes on a new interferon-free combination for hepatitis C, a category that has been set on fire by Sovaldi from Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and which a number of players are looking to benefit from.

AbbVie submitted its FDA application just this week for its promising all-oral treatment and anticipates approval this year, when it is expected to be part of a trifecta made up of it, Gilead and Merck ($MRK). It said today that it plans to submit the regimen to the European Union in May. On Friday, Gilead reported Sovaldi sales of $2.274 billion in its first full quarter on the market, setting it up to potentially surpass Humira's sales in its first year.

AbbVie expects revenues to hit about $19 billion for the year, not taking into account any potential sales if the hep C treatment is approved and earnings of $3 to $3.10 a share on an adjusted basis.

Approval is crucial to AbbVie. The drugmaker, which began life last year after being spun off from Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), came into being with a patent cliff on its horizon. While Humira had worldwide sales last year of $11.02 billion for AbbVie and marketing partner Eisai, it goes off patent in 2016. And while copies might not be on the market immediately, AbbVie will be facing a huge revenue loss that will need to be filled for it to maintain momentum.

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