Bristol-Myers' Opdivo drives another top-line beat in Q3, but lung-cancer combo data looms

Opdivo still holds the market-share lead in second-line lung cancer, Bristol-Myers CFO Charlie Bancroft told investors on Thursday.

As Bristol-Myers Squibb’s chief commercial officer, Murdo Gordon, acknowledged on Thursday’s third-quarter conference call, “there were questions” about whether Opdivo would grow this year in the U.S. But with the drug’s third straight sales beat of the year in the books, the company has laid those questions to rest.

The immuno-oncology star churned out $1.27 billion in quarterly sales, surpassing Wall Street’s $1.21 billion expectations. U.S. sales of $778 million came in $46 million ahead of forecasts.

As company CFO Charlie Bancroft told investors on the call, Opdivo still holds the market-share crown in second-line lung cancer, a position put in jeopardy by last year’s first-line trial flop. But the company is still holding off archrival Keytruda from Merck in that indication, despite the fact that Keytruda boasts the PD-1/PD-L1 class’s only two first-line nods.

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Of course, despite the second-line status and a strong kidney-cancer showing, analysts’ questions still centered on Bristol-Myers’ second shot at a first-line lung-cancer nod of its own: the closely watched Checkmate-227, a study trialing Opdivo alongside the company’s CTLA4 med Yervoy. Earlier this year, an AstraZeneca PD-L1/CTLA4 pairing missed its marks in a phase 3 study, casting doubt on BMS’ tandem.

Bristol-Myers’ execs encouraged patience from analysts, though, with R&D chief Tom Lynch reminding them that “we have a family of studies in lung cancer which are going to help define the best way to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer.” CEO Giovanni Caforio added after the fifth or sixth question that “at this point, we are really not in a position to provide any additional insight on the study.”

RELATED: Thought Opdivo was down and out? Think again, Bristol-Myers says with first-quarter beats

Outside of immuno-oncology, next-gen anticoagulant Eliquis met $1.23 billion forecasts after stringing together beats in the first and second quarters—and unseating former class leader Xarelto from Johnson & Johnson as the market’s prescription king along the way. As Bancroft explained, more patients fell into the U.S. coverage gap in the third and fourth quarters than in the first and second. But the medication’s 39% worldwide growth—and its 8% sequential increase in total prescriptions—reflect “strong underlying demand growth,” he noted, calling the performance “exceptional.”

Overall, the Opdivo and Eliquis turnouts helped Bristol-Myers keep its 2017 top-line beat streak intact, with quarterly revenue of $5.25 billion topping $5.19 billion projections. But the pharma giant couldn’t say the same for its bottom line.

After an in-line second quarter, earnings per share came up short for the New Jersey drugmaker, checking in at 75 cents to fall two cents shy of consensus estimates. Lower gross margin, resulting from product-mix and inventory changes, was to blame, but the company increased its full-year non-GAAP EPS guidance nonetheless. Bristol-Myers now expects to net between $2.95 and $3.05 per share for 2017, a 5-cent jack-up from its previous guidance.