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3 Things You Might Be Overlooking With AbbVie

Keith Speights, The Motley Fool

AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) has delivered better-than-expected performance since being spun off from parent company Abbott Labs in 2013. The company ranks at the top or near the top among big drugmakers in nearly every key metric. But the stock's dismal performance so far in 2018 underscores investors' skepticism about AbbVie's prospects.

Bill Chase, AbbVie's CFO, and Scott Brun, vice president of scientific affairs and head of AbbVie Ventures, fielded questions on Wednesday at the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Conference. Both executives were asked in different ways about what things investors could be underappreciating to some extent about AbbVie's prospects. Here are three areas you might be overlooking with AbbVie, according to Chase and Brun.  

Man on knees looking through opening at bottom of a wall covered with business diagrams.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. The strength of its non-Humira products

It makes sense that investors focus a lot on Humira. After all, Humira remains the best-selling drug in the world and generates 63% of AbbVie's total revenue. But Scott Brun thinks that several of the company's other approved products don't get the attention they deserve.

He stated that Imbruvica and Venclexta are "transforming" the treatment of hematological malignancies. Imbruvica is already approved for six indications. AbbVie is exploring the use of the drug in several more indications. Meanwhile, Venclexta awaits regulatory approval as a first-line treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and is being evaluated in late-stage clinical studies for treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and multiple myeloma. 

Brun also mentioned Orilissa, the first endometriosis pain drug approved in years. AbbVie is conducting a late-stage study of the drug as a treatment for uterine fibroids, an indication where Brun said the company is seeing "very high levels of efficacy." And he spent little time talking about AbbVie's latest drug to approach blockbuster status -- hepatitis C virus (HCV) therapy Mavyret. 

2. The potential of its pipeline

Bill Chase was quick to point out that AbbVie has a very diversified pipeline with multiple promising candidates. When asked which of the company's pipeline candidates are most underappreciated, the first new drugs he mentioned were risankizumab and upadacitinib.

AbbVie has already filed for FDA approval of risankizumab in treating psoriasis. Brun noted that clinical studies of the drug showed superiority over both Humira and Stelara, Johnson & Johnson's blockbuster immunology drug. He said that risankizumab achieved "the highest responses we've seen in patients with psoriasis."

Upadacitinib could be even more promising. AbbVie thinks that the drug could be at the top of its class in treating rheumatoid arthritis. The company expects to file for approval in the indication before the end of this year. With both of its potential blockbuster immunology candidates combined with approved drugs with plenty of room to run, Chase said that AbbVie feels "very comfortable" that it can deliver on its projections of $35 billion in non-Humira revenue by 2025.

3. Its resilience in a rapidly changing healthcare environment

The Trump administration has made it clear that changes are coming to the U.S. healthcare system, especially in the area of drug pricing. In AbbVie's Q2 conference call, CEO Rick Gonzalez stated that "there were probably more positives than there were negatives" for the company with the proposed changes. Chase confirmed his view that AbbVie will be resilient in the midst of a rapidly changing healthcare environment.

Chase said that AbbVie's long-range forecast built in assumptions of a tougher pricing environment in the U.S. He added, though, that price only accounted for 1% of the company's 17% operational growth in the second quarter. Chase stated that AbbVie is "fortunate" that its growth is driven by volume and not by price.

But what about the fallout from changes to eliminate rebates? Chase replied that the current proposed changes only impact Medicare, which accounts for roughly 15% of its sales. Even if rebates are removed by commercial payers, he thinks that the market will continue to use some form of volume-based contracting. As long as that's the case, according to Chase, AbbVie's business model shouldn't be impacted very much.

One extra thing not mentioned

At the beginning of his remarks, Chase said that AbbVie had been preparing for the inevitable loss of exclusivity for Humira even before its spin-off from Abbott. He stated that the company has built "one of the most attractive late-stage pipelines in the industry" to be in great shape when Humira's sales begin to wane.

Chase is right. AbbVie's pipeline was ranked No. 2 in the biopharmaceutical industry by market research firm EvaluatePharma. 

But there's one other thing that investors might be overlooking about AbbVie that didn't come up in the comments at the Morgan Stanley conference. Humira's sales won't evaporate overnight. EvaluatePharma projects that Humira will remain the best-selling drug in the world all the way through 2024. That gives AbbVie plenty of time for its other drugs and its pipeline to deliver on the company's projected growth. 

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Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie. He has also provided consulting services in the past for Abbott Labs. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and has the following options: short October 2018 $135 calls on Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.