Humira carries AbbVie in its first quarter as standalone company

AbbVie's rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira did exactly what the new company needed it to do in the first quarter. It returned significantly higher sales and allowed Abbvie to report better-than-expected earnings in its first earnings report as a standalone company.

AbbVie ($ABBV), which was spun off from Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) on the first of the year, said sales of Humira in the quarter were $2.24 billion, a bounce of 16% worldwide. They were up nearly 24% in the U.S. That was just over half of the company's total revenue for the quarter of $4.33 billion, which was up 3.7%.

"The business generated strong sales growth despite loss of exclusivity in our lipid franchise, which speaks to the foundation of AbbVie's product portfolio," said CEO Richard A. Gonzalez.

About that lipid franchise. The company is eliminating its cardiovascular sales force in the U.S., cutting hundreds of jobs after losing exclusivity on its TriCor/Trilipix heart drugs. Sales of the drugs for the quarter were off a stunning 50%, falling to $128 million.

AbbVie has to count on Humira, now the best-selling drug in the world, to hold it steady until its pipeline can produce some revenue generators. Furthest along is its experimental hepatitis C therapy. If approved, it will face tough competition, particularly from a therapy being developed by Gilead Sciences ($GILD), which appears to have the front-runner in the race for an oral, non-interferon treatment. AbbVie's 5-oral-drug combo has reported cure rates of 96% in HCV patients who hadn't taken interferon before and 93% in patients who had failed prior treatment. Though these are promising data, analysts have pointed out the AbbVie combo requires patients to take 5 different drugs as opposed to the fewer pills in regimens from Gilead and others.

- here's the release

Special Report: Hep C pill race report 2012: Gilead, others rush toward pharma gold

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