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

Last quarter, Bristol-Myers Squibb walked back its 2017 guidance in a move some industry watchers attributed to immuno-oncology star Opdivo and its recent setbacks. The first quarter turned that trend right around.

Street-beating Opdivo sales of $1.13 billion—which blew past $988 million estimates—helped the New Jersey drugmaker come in ahead overall on the revenue front. It posted a top-line haul of $4.93 billion, well ahead of the $4.75 billion analysts expected. Non-GAAP earnings per share of 84 cents, in turn, came in ahead of the consensus 73 cents.

"I think it's fair to say we just had an outstanding quarter," CEO Giovanni Caforio told investors on a conference call.

The result? Bristol now expects per-share earnings to hit between $2.85 and $3.00 for the year, up from a $2.70 to $2.90 range. And the company now forecasts a revenue increase in the mid-single digits instead of the low-single digits.

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The Opdivo numbers are a positive sign for investors, who have been worried ever since the med flopped a first-line monotherapy trial in lung cancer—ceding its lung cancer lead to Merck nemesis Keytruda in the process.

After Keytruda also muscled ahead on the combo front, shares went low enough to prompt rumors that Bristol could serve as a takeover target for the likes of Pfizer.

The med's Q1 stability in the second-line lung-cancer space has BMS encouraged, though, CFO Charlie Bancroft said on the call, and "we now believe there is potential for Opdivo to grow in the U.S. this year compared to 2016," he said.

RELATED: Could Opdivo worries turn BMS into an M&A target? One analyst thinks so

Opdivo didn’t get it done alone in Q1, though. Fellow immuno-oncology treatment Yervoy also shattered Street forecasts with its $330 million turnout, and next-gen anticoagulant Eliquis—a slow starter that's leapt to the front of the pack in recent years—churned out $1.1 billion in sales to pass estimates, too. That med now holds the U.S. market's top spot based on total prescriptions, Caforio said, reminding investors that "we are not just a cancer company."

That’s not to say everything was rosy for the pharma giant. Arthritis med Orencia fell $41 million below consensus, and the HIV and hep C franchises “were also light this quarter,” Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan pointed out in a note to clients. Still, those meds are “less important strategically at this stage in their lifecycles,” especially considering Bristol’s position in the multibillion-dollar immuno-oncology field.

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BMS will have to work hard, though, if it wants to keep Opdivo beating forecasts, especially with new competition coming in from Roche’s Tecentriq—which just picked up a bladder cancer nod earlier this month to add to its lung cancer approval. Plus, AstraZeneca’s durvalumab is on its way in both bladder and lung cancers. Both Bristol and AZ are currently testing their checkpoint meds with CTLA4 treatments in lung cancer, and it remains to be seen whether those combos can triumph over the chemo tandems Merck and Roche are trialing.

Other checkpoint rivals are working their way up the pipeline, too. Pfizer and Merck KGaA just won the first approval for their entrant, Bavencio, which now boasts a green light to treat a rare form of skin cancer.