- Novartis's core operating income increased 9% to $3.65 billion, while AbbVie's Q1 earnings were $1.02 billion. Meanwhile, British mainstay AstraZeneca saw a profit slide of $100 million (excluding certain items) and revenue that fell by $400 million compared to last year.
- For Novartis, areas of strength included its Alcon division (ophthalmology), where sales rose 5% to $2.6 billion, and generics, where sales rose 9% to $2.2 billion. AbbVie's core income was lower than it would have been because of a one-time $1.9 billion cost associated with breaking up with Shire. However, sales of Humira increased 18% to $3.1 billion for Q1 2015.
- AstraZeneca's troubles, which were largely anticipated by analysts, stem from patent expirations of major drugs like Nexium and Crestor, ongoing currency turbulence, and slower-than-expected uptake of new drugs like the anti-clotting med Brilinta and asthma drug Symbicort.
Two top-line takeaways for Novartis and AbbVie: The first quarter was a mixed-bag and each company exceeded analysts' expectations despite the challenges they faced. Novartis faced patent expiry on several of its products, in addition to dealing with the currency impact of a stronger dollar. The stronger dollar resulted in 13% lower income during the first quarter; however, strong sales of two key oncology products—Gilenya (fingolomid) for multiple sclerosis and Afinitor (everolimus) for kidney cancer—strengthened overall sales.
With respect to AbbVie, Viekira Pak for hepatitis C did not do as well as expected during the first quarter. Sales were $138 million, versus the $215 million analysts had predicted. The challenge was competition from Gilead. Nonetheless, the strength of Humira (adalimumab), the top-selling drug in the world, definitely helped offset this challenge. But AbbVie can't rely on just Humira forever, underscoring the importance of its deal to buy Pharmacyclics and its cancer med Imbruvica.
AstraZeneca, in the meantime, has several issues to sort out. But CEO Pascal Soriot maintained a positive outlook. "Our pipeline progressed well in each of our therapy areas," he said in a statement. "We also continued to reinforce our oncology franchise."
All told, AbbVie and Novartis have rosier outlooks for 2015 than originally anticipated. Novartis's share were up as much as 2.5% on news of Q1 earnings, while AbbVie expects to earn $4.10 to $4.30 per share, instead of $4.05 to $4.25 per share as initially forecast.