Bristol-Myers rides Opdivo, hep C sales to Q3 beat

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) expects big things from its immunotherapy powerhouse Opdivo, pushing for expanded indications for the med as it competes for the top spot in the field. Now the company is celebrating the fruits of its labor, beating third quarter estimates with strong sales of its PD-1 inhibitor--not to mention a standout performance from its hep C franchise.

Sales for Opdivo rang in at $305 million, trouncing analysts' estimates of $238 million. That came as welcome news to BMS, which is vying with Merck ($MRK) for first place in the PD-1/PD-L1 market. Merck was first to market with its immuno-therapy Keytruda, but BMS has not wasted any time evening the score, racking up approvals for the drug in lung and skin cancer and gunning for additional indications.

But BMS' other cancer immunotherapy did not fare as well. Melanoma med Yervoy had sales of $240 million that fell short of analysts' projections of $282 million, a "big miss" for the company, Evercore ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum said in a note to investors. BMS also announced that Yervoy flunked a Phase III trial in patients with recurrent NSCLC, failing to improve overall survival in combination with other chemotherapy drugs compared with placebo.

Still, Yervoy could gain momentum in the future as a combination treatment with Opdivo. The pair was approved by the FDA earlier this month for patients with advanced melanoma and a specific genetic variation after a study showed that the combo extended individuals' lives by a median of 4.2 months without their disease progressing. Analysts expect Yervoy to bring in about $1.6 billion by 2018.

A better-than-expected performance for its hep C franchise gave BMS a big boost during the third quarter, too. Sales rang in at $402 million, topping analysts' estimates of $200 million during Daklinza's first quarter on the market in the U.S. and charting "the biggest individual product beat," Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson said in a note to investors. And BMS could soon reap more from the drug, as earlier this month Daklinza scored the FDA's priority review tag for use with Gilead's ($GILD) Sovaldi for a trio of new indications in difficult-to-treat patients.

Bristol-Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio

But slow-starting anticoagulant Eliquis cast a dark cloud over earnings, with sales of $466 million that missed the Street's estimates of $479.3 million. The miss comes even after BMS beefed up marketing efforts for the drug, sending the drug to a beat in Q2.

Overall, sales came in at $4.07 billion, beating analysts' $3.86 billion prediction and prompting the company to raise its full-year sales forecast to a range of $16 billion to $16.4 billion. Before, BMS had projected full-year sales of $15.5 billion to $15.9 billion. The company also upped its earnings forecast to $1.85 to $1.90 a share from $1.70 to $1.80 a share--the third time BMS has raised its earnings projections this year, Bloomberg points out.

And the positive trend is not one that BMS CEO Giovanni Caforio sees ending anytime soon. "I remain confident in our strategy and that we are entering our exciting next chapter in a position of strength," Caforio said in a statement.

- read BMS' statement
- here's the Bloomberg story

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