Lilly profit beats Wall St estimates, helped by cost cuts


By Ransdell Pierson

Oct 23 (Reuters) - Eli Lilly and Co on Wednesdayreported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings, helped by costcuts and a big price increase for top-selling antidepressantCymbalta, which begins facing generic competition in December.

The Indianapolis drugmaker said it had earned $1.20 billion,or $1.11 per share, in the third quarter, compared with $1.33billion, or $1.18 per share, a year earlier, when it tookspecial charges for a partnership agreement.

The profit handily topped the analysts' average forecast of$1.04 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Analysts expect the company's earnings to plunge perhaps 25percent in 2014, as generic versions of Cymbalta andosteoporosis drug Evista flood the market and batter sales ofthe two blockbuster brands.

Even so, Atlantic Equities analyst Richard Purkiss saidinvestors would probably be rewarded after 2015, when harm fromthe patent expirations subsides and profits rebound from growingsales of other drugs and the introduction of new Lillytreatments for cancer and other diseases.

"Lilly is likely to be the fastest-growing big-cappharmaceutical company from 2015 to 2017, once the generic hitfrom Cymbalta and Evista is over, with double-digit earningsgrowth," Purkiss said. In the meantime, he said investors cancount on a continuation of Lilly's generous dividend.

Shares of Lilly were down 0.1 percent at $50.09 in morningtrading.

One of the company's most closely watched experimental drugsis ramucirumab, which when used by itself prolonged survival ofpatients with stomach cancer in late-stage trials. Some analystsbelieve its annual sales could exceed $1.5 billion by 2020 if itis approved for the hard-to-treat condition, and other forms ofcancer.

Lilly said on Wednesday that U.S. regulators had assigned apriority review to ramucirumab and might decide by the secondquarter of 2014 whether to approve it.

The company's sales rose 6 percent to $5.78 billion in thethird quarter, slightly above Wall Street expectations of $5.76billion, with most of the growth coming from price increases onits medicines. Global revenue would have risen 8 percent, if notfor the weaker dollar, which lowers the value of sales inoverseas markets.

The company squeezed 11 percent growth for Cymbalta byraising prices, bringing those sales to $1.38 billion. But thenumber of prescriptions filled for Lilly's flagship productdeclined.

Sales of lung cancer drug Alimta rose 7 percent to $691million, while anti-impotence treatment Cialis jumped 9 percentto $527 million. Sales of Evista, which loses patent protectionearly next year, were up 3 percent at $256 million.

Lilly's marketing, selling and administrative expensesshrank by 6 percent in the quarter.

The company raised the low end of its full-year earningsforecast, excluding special items, to $4.10 a share from $4.05while keeping the top end at $4.15.

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