AbbVie's Q4 sales miss the mark as cancer, hep C meds lag

AbbVie's Humira surpassed Wall Street's U.S. sales predictions in Q4.

AbbVie’s top-line haul may have fallen short again in Q4, but this time, closely watched behemoth Humira—which has stumbled in recent quarters—did its part.

The Illinois drugmaker’s star posted $2.88 billion in U.S. sales, growing by 23.5% and topping Street forecasts by $79 million. While foreign exchange impact kept international sales short of the mark, totaling $1.41 billion to consensus’ $1.46 billion, the U.S. performance was enough to keep Humira’s total $4.29 million tally above expectations of $4.26 billion.

Investors have been keeping their eyes on the top seller, looking for signs it’ll be able to withstand forthcoming biosimilar competition. Amgen already has FDA approval for Amjevita, and analysts expect it to hit the scene by late next year.

Copies of Humira’s blockbuster rivals could also eat into market share down the line, with Pfizer’s copy of Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade already on the U.S. market and Novartis waiting to launch Erelzi, a version of Amgen’s Enbrel.

AbbVie, though, is expecting Humira to keep it up in 2017 with U.S. growth in the mid- to high teens. As CEO Rick Gonzalez explained on a conference call with investors, Humira has more than 40% of first-line market share in the rheumatology, dermatology and GI markets, and “I don’t see anything on the horizon today that would give me pause as to the fundamental trajectory” of the med, he said.

Meanwhile, Humira’s Q4 total wasn’t enough to make up for misses from AbbVie’s other key meds in the quarter. Overall, adjusted net revenue for the period checked in at $6.78 billion, below the $6.92 billion analysts thought they’d see.

Blood cancer hotshot Imbruvica, for one, turned out $511 million compared with analysts’ $544 million prediction—a miss that some industry-watchers saw coming after development partner Johnson & Johnson reported underwhelming Q4 sales earlier this week. Still, though, the med “continues to track where we had hoped or slightly ahead, so we’re very comfortable,” Gonzalez said.

Overall demand for Imbruvica “remains robust,” Barclays analyst Geoff Meacham added in a note to clients.

Hep C combo Viekira Pak, up against hefty competition from Gilead and Merck, contributed to the gap, too; its $311 million fell short of a $356 million forecast.

The Q4 sales miss didn’t drag AbbVie’s EPS off its target, though, with lower expenses driving a 1-cent beat at $1.20. And for the year, AbbVie put up $25.56 billion in revenue, staying with the pharma giant’s prediction that its top-line would approach $26 billion.

For this year, AbbVie expects to see adjusted diluted EPS hit between $5.44 to $5.54, and AbbVie will need its Q4 laggards to step up if it’s going to make that happen. It’s expecting Imbruvica sales of more than $2.4 billion this year, and it predicts Viekira will churn out $1 billion in sales, too.