AbbVie reports Q4 profit jump on higher Humira sales

AbbVie said Friday that the company's fourth-quarter profit reached $1.5 billion, up from a loss of $810 million reported in the year-ago period, boosted by strong Humira sales. Meanwhile, quarterly revenue rose 18.4 percent to $6.4 billion, roughly in line with expectations. Shares in the drugmaker rose as much as 11 percent on the news.

CEO Richard Gonzalez said the company "delivered strong performance in 2015, exceeding original sales, margin expansion and earnings projections for the year," adding that it expects "to continue building on that momentum in 2016."

Sales of Humira in the quarter rose by 10.5 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2014 to $3.7 billion, in line with analyst estimates, while full-year sales of the drug totalled just over $14 billion, representing more than 60 percent of AbbVie's global revenue. AbbVie previously estimated that sales of the drug would reach more than $18 billion by 2020, compared to analyst forecasts of about $13 billion.

Gonzalez noted that AbbVie is prepared to pursue litigation to prevent the launch of biosimilars versions of Humira in the US until at least 2022. "Any company seeking to market biosimilar versions of Humira will have to contend with this extensive patent estate, which AbbVie intends to defend vigorously," Gonzalez said.

In other quarterly results, AbbVie recorded sales of the hepatitis C therapy Viekira Pak, which was cleared by the FDA in December 2014, of $554 million, falling short of analyst projections of $569 million. Meanwhile, Imbruvica, which AbbVie obtained from its $21-billion takeover of Pharmacyclics last year, generated $343 million in revenue, compared to analyst forecasts of $348 million.

For 2016, AbbVie confirmed its prior forecast of per-share earnings in the range of $4.90 to $5.10, reflecting double-digit growth versus 2015.

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