Biogen revenue leaps 50% on blockbuster-level Tecfidera sales

Biogen Idec ($BIIB) chose an unfortunate day to announce its first-quarter earnings. Pharma folks are still buzzing about yesterday's multibillion-dollar, three-way deal among Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Lilly ($LLY), not to mention Monday's talk about a potential Pfizer-AstraZeneca ($AZN) match-up. And if they're not focused on this week's M&A, they're eyeing Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) awe-inspiring $2.27 billion sales for its hep C trailblazer Sovaldi.

If not for all that, the spotlight would be shining directly on Biogen's multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera. Launched last April, Tecfidera racked up more than a half-billion dollars in sales for the first quarter of this year. That puts its cumulative total at $1.38 billion--well within blockbuster territory.

Only a handful of drugs have broken the blockbuster barrier within four quarters of launch. If Sovaldi hadn't broken previous records so completely, Tecfidera would look even more impressive, in third place for first-four-quarters sales behind Vertex Pharmaceuticals' ($VRTX) Incivek and Pfizer's ($PFE) Celebrex.

Plus, Biogen raised its earnings forecast for the year, and not only on Tecfidera's strength. Demand for its older, injectable MS drug Avonex may be softening, but the drug still delivered 2% sales growth for the quarter, to $761 million. And its sales "buoyancy" helped prompt the hike in expectations.

"Solid" Tysabri demand also helped, the company said, though Q1 sales were actually a bit soft. The drug pulled in 41% more quarter-over-quarter--$441 million--but that's because Biogen now owns full rights to the drug after buying out its partner last year. Without that, the drug would have faltered, with sales shrinking a bit. But there's a silver lining in that cloud: "[The] Tysabri weakness is likely attributable to switching to Tecfidera," ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum said in an investor note, citing a slide in Biogen's earnings presentation; the company says about 70% of patients who discontinue Tysabri "are staying within the Biogen Idec MS franchise."

Overall, Biogen Q1 sales hit $2.1 billion, a 50% increase year-over-year. Earnings fell short of analyst estimates because of an R&D expense payment to Eisai, part of a partnership to develop Alzheimer's disease drugs. For the full year, the company expects revenue growth of 26% to 28%, with EPS between $9.85 and $9.95 per share.

- see the release from Biogen

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