Eylea growth slows a bit, but Regeneron hikes 2013 forecast

High-flying Regeneron ($REGN) once again beat expectations with its quarterly earnings. And once again, the company raised its forecast for Eylea, the vision-loss drug that's fueling much of its growth. But once again, Regeneron said that sales growth for Eylea was slowing down as patients use fewer doses.

Of third-quarter sales amounting to $597 million, Eylea accounted for $363 million in U.S. sales, up 49% year over year. For the first 9 months of the year, the drug delivered just a tad more than $1 billion, up from $562 million for the same period of 2012.

Now, Regeneron expects up to $1.375 billion in Eylea sales for the year, up from a previous top-end projection of $1.35 billion.

You don't have to be a math whiz to note that the new forecast assumes U.S. sales in the fourth quarter will come in only a bit higher than Q3's. That means the company expects another slowdown in growth next quarter, with about a 33% increase from the $276 million in Eylea sales for the fourth quarter of last year.

All this feels like petty grousing, with Eylea still poised to beat 2012 sales by a huge margin. The company has new data supporting new indications for the drug, now approved to treat wet age-related macular degeneration plus macular edema after central retinal vein occlusion. During the third quarter, Regeneron filed for U.S. approval for Eylea as a treatment for vision loss related to diabetic macular edema, and partner Bayer expects a similar application in the E.U. by year's end. So, the current slowdown in growth could soon be offset by sales in new patient populations.

In any case, the Eylea growth slowdown didn't faze investors one bit. The double-digit beat on earnings and sales boosted shares to a 4% gain in early trading today. RBC Capital Markets analyst Adnan Butt saw the new Eylea forecast as an affirmation of Regeneron's 2014 expectations. "These are important trends because expectations were cautious and they make consensus 2014 estimates appear more achievable now," Butt said (as quoted by MarketWatch).

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