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Eli Lilly reports 4Q profit, Effient sales drop

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Drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. said Thursday it turned a fourth-quarter profit on higher-than-expected revenue, but a key new drug saw a sharp sales drop after its summer debut.

The Indianapolis pharmaceutical company reported double-digit sales growth for several established products, including its top-seller, the antipsychotic Zyprexa.

However, sales of Lilly’s widely anticipated blood thinner Effient slid to $3.8 million worldwide in the fourth quarter. Effient rang up $22.6 million in third-quarter worldwide sales after debuting in August.

Lilly faces a wave of patent expirations in the next few years that will expose its best-selling drugs to generic competition, and analysts have been looking for reassurances that the company can replace that revenue. Some have predicted Effient could reach $500 million to $1 billion in annual sales.

“For all the attention this product has received over the past few years, the first six months of sales are very underwhelming,” Bernstein analyst Dr. Tim Anderson said in a Thursday morning research note.

Lilly developed Effient with Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo Co., and the companies are sharing revenue. Lilly CEO John Lechleiter told analysts doctors are still learning about the drug, and Lilly is still expanding the number of catheter labs that stock Effient.

He also noted that the drug is only approved for a narrow patient population — people with acute coronary syndrome who receive a stent — and Lilly plans to expand that.

“We feel just as good about Effient today as we did when we launched the product, so I think it’s too early to say that we should reset expectations,” he said.

Company leaders also noted that they have 29 drug molecules moving through mid- or late-stage clinical testing, and advancing that pipeline is Lilly’s top priority.

Lilly said Thursday it restructured a 2001 collaboration agreement between Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and ImClone Systems Inc., which Lilly bought in 2008. Bristol and ImClone had jointly developed the cancer treatment Erbitux. The new deal centers on Erbitux and a similar, successor cancer drug called necitumumab.

Bristol will pay some costs for necitumumab testing and, if it’s approved, will get 55 percent of future sales in the U.S., Canada and Japan. Lilly gets all other revenue.

Lilly earned $915.4 million, or 83 cents per share, in the three months that ended Dec. 31. That compares to a loss of $3.63 billion, or $3.31 per share, in the same period a year earlier, when it took a charge for the ImClone deal.

Revenue increased 14 percent to $5.93 billion, due mostly to higher volume.

Excluding charges, Lilly earned 91 cents per share in the fourth quarter.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters forecast earnings per share of 92 cents for the quarter on $5.67 billion in revenue. Analysts typically exclude one-time charges from their forecasts.

Zyrexa sales rose 19 percent to $1.36 billion in the final quarter of 2009 compared to the prior year. Sales for Lilly’s second-best seller, the antidepressant Cymbalta, rose 15 percent to $830.8 million.

In 2009, eight Lilly drugs rang up more than $1 billion in sales, led by Zyprexa’s $4.9 billion.

For the full year, Lilly earned $4.33 billion, or $3.94 per share, compared with a loss of $2.07 billion, or $1.89 per share, in 2008. Revenue rose 7 percent to $21.84 billion from $20.37 billion.

Looking ahead, the company expects a profit of $4.65 to $4.85 per share in 2010, excluding any possible impact from the health care overhaul currently being considered by Congress. Analysts expects a profit of about $4.73 per share.

Lilly shares fell 84 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $35.55 in Thursday morning trading. That’s a deeper fall than the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, which dropped a half percent.

AP Business Writer Damian Troise contributed to this story from New York.

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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