Lilly sales and profits slide, but analysts expected worse

Cymbalta showed a 20% sales increase in the fourth quarter--courtesy of Eli Lilly

Eli Lilly ($LLY) is the latest drugmaker to beat a set of low expectations. Sales were down 7% for the year. Fourth-quarter net income dropped 4% to $827.2 million, or 85 cents per share, excluding items. The $5.96 billion in Q4 sales amounted to a 1% decline. But it all could have been worse.

EPS beat analyst targets of 79 cents. Sales were expected to be $160 million lower. "Overall it looks like a clean quarter," ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum told Bloomberg.

Which may seem like a damning with faint praise. But with Lilly still reeling from the loss of its top-selling Zyprexa, faint praise is about the best it can expect. The antipsychotic has now lost about two-thirds of its sales, which hit $5 billion in 2010--and fell to $1.7 billion in 2012.

Lucky for Lilly, it has another psychotropic drug to help fill the gap, at least for now. Cymbalta is still steaming ahead, with a 20% sales increase in the fourth quarter, to $1.42 billion--and 20% for the full year, to $4.994 billion. That's only about $32 million less than Zyprexa's 2010 numbers.

CEO John Lechleiter

The only thing about Cymbalta's performance is that it, too, will face generic competition very soon. With Lilly's 6 months' worth of pediatric exclusivity, the drug loses its lock on the market in December. So, 2012 was its last full year without copycat rivals.

Still, CEO John Lechleiter remained upbeat, pointing to Lilly's cost-cutting, its phase III pipeline, and its other growing drugs, such as Forteo (osteoporosis) and Alimta (cancer). Forteo grew by 21% for the year, topping the blockbuster threshold with $1.15 billion in sales; Alimta grew a more modest 5%, but its sales approached $2.6 billion, and the U.S. market grew by 13%, helped in part by higher prices.

Lechleiter also cited Effient, its blood thinner that competes with now-generic Plavix. Effient managed to put up some impressive growth, percentage-wise, for the year: 51%. Too bad it was only on a $302.5 million baseline.

- see the release from Lilly
- more from Bloomberg

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