Despite drug launch streak, Lilly posts rare sales decline as Alimta succumbs to generics

Even as Eli Lilly puts much of its energy behind a suite of new drug launches, an older cancer medicine that just tumbled off the patent cliff is proving to be a big drag on the company's financial performance.

Approved in 2004 and used to treat lung cancer and mesothelioma, Alimta lost its last U.S. patent in May, resulting in lower demand and price cuts as generics rushed in during the second quarter. During that period, the drug posted $228 million in U.S. sales, a 63% decline from the same three months last year.

And while Lilly is busy focusing on its new launches these days, the Alimta performance dragged on the company as a whole. In all, Lilly's sales fell 4% during the second quarter to $6.49 billion, well short of analyst consensus estimates of $6.84 billion. 

It was Eli Lilly's first quarterly sales decline since the second quarter of 2020, when the pandemic swept across the globe and hurt companies in nearly every industry. Before that, Lilly last posted a sales decline in the first quarter of 2015.

With the first half of 2022 in the books, Eli Lilly also cut its earnings per share guidance. Lilly now expects $6.96 to $7.11 in earnings per share this year, down from a prior range of $7.30 to $7.45.

Lilly's big focus certainly centers on its newer medicines. For years, the company has been working to refresh its portfolio, so it can garner a bigger portion of sales from new launches. The company's "key growth products"—a group that includes diabetes launch Mounjaro, immunology med Taltz, breast cancer treatment Verzenio and many others—grew revenues 20% during the quarter to nearly $4.3 billion, Lilly said. 

Excluding Alimta and certain other treatments, the company's revenues grew 6%, Lilly noted.

Looking forward, Lilly isn't done with its new launches. Aside from Mounjaro's recent FDA approval, the company is advancing a late-stage Alzheimer's disease prospect in donanemab, a mantle cell lymphoma drug called pirtobrutinib, an atopic dermatitis candidate dubbed lebrikizumab and another med named mirikizumab for ulcerative colitis.

After its launch in June, Mounjaro garnered more than 20% market share for new-to-brand prescriptions in the Type 2 diabetes injectable treatment class, Lilly said in an investor presentation.

On the COVID-19 front, Lilly said it plans to make its antibody bebtelovimab available for commercial purchase by states, hospital groups and others starting the week of Aug. 15. That should be before the U.S. government's current stock runs out, the company noted.