Say goodbye to AbbVie's ever-growing Humira sales: The biosim decline has officially begun

AbbVie reported sales of $7.83 billion in the first quarter, down 1.3% on a reported basis and up 0.4% operationally. (AbbVie)

AbbVie's Humira just posted its first-ever drop in worldwide sales—and with biosimilars on the march in Europe, it's not likely to be the last.

Make no mistake; AbbVie is still making a fortune off the megablockbuster immunology med. In the first quarter, worldwide Humira sales may have slipped 5.6%, but that's still $4.46 billion. And in the U.S., revenue's still growing. Stateside sales increased by 7% to $3.22 billion.

But biosims haven't hit in the U.S. yet. And take a look what's happened outside the U.S. after European biosim launches in October last year. AbbVie reported that its key moneymaker fell 27.9% outside its home country, to $1.23 billion.

Plus, Humira's never suffered a decline before. Though global sales rose only slightly during last year's fourth quarter, Humira grew sales by a much bigger margin every quarter since the company formed in 2013. In most quarters, the drug turned in double-digit growth.

Humira's date with U.S. biosims looks like it won't arrive till 2023. And on a conference call Thursday, AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said 2019 will be a "good test" of the company's ability to withstand patent losses. About $5 billion in Humira sales face biosim pressure this year, and $500 million in AndroGel sales will be vulnerable to copycat rivals, too.

At the same time, the company is in the early stages of launches for severe endometriosis pain med Orilissa and its brand-new psoriasis med Skyrizi. Later this year, AbbVie expects approval for its blockbuster-to-be rheumatoid arthritis med upadacitinib.

Even as those launches have yet to take offand as AbbVie socks money into the rolloutsthe company is still growing earnings per share, Gonzalez pointed out.

"I think that demonstrates the strength of the underlying business," he said.

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Outside of AbbVie's big moneymaker, the company's hep C sales sank 11% during the first quarter to $815 million. On the flip side, its blood cancer drugs are on the upswing, pulling in sales of $1.17 billion during the first quarter, a 42.8% increase. Imbruvica had a blockbuster quarter at more than $1 billion in sales, while the newer Venclexta generated $151 million.

Just this week, AbbVie won approval for Skyrizi, a psoriasis med expected to shake up the field. AbbVie's hoping to grab market share with that drug ahead of Humira's biosim threat in 2023, when several players can launch under individual agreements with AbbVie.

Gonzalez said Thursday that the company expects to secure “rapid and broad” formulary coverage for Skyrizi—and he touted the new med as a “multi-billion-dolllar peak sales” opportunity. This year, AbbVie expects $150 million from Skyrizi, with most of its sales coming in the second half of the year.

As Skyrizi picks up steam, the drug will likely eat away at Humira's prospects, Gonzalez said. Humira is likely to hold onto its current patients in psoriasis, the CEO said, but Skyrizi will be working to grab new patients as they become eligible for treatment.

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Aside from Skyrizi, AbbVie is aiming for a upadacitinib approval in August, analysts with Cortellis said in a report last month. That drug leads all of pharma’s 2019 launches when ranked by expected 2023 sales, the analysts said. The firm predicts upadacitinib will bring in $2.2 billion that year.

Gonzalez said AbbVie is “extremely encouraged” by the med’s safety and benefit profile, adding that the data show a “clear superiority” versus Humira, which is currently the “gold standard” of treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Overall during the first quarter, AbbVie reported sales of $7.83 billion, down 1.3% on a reported basis and up 0.4% operationally. The company suffered a 1.7% negative impact from exchange rates. With the performance, AbbVie raised its 2019 earnings per share guidance to between $7.26 and $7.36.