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Eli Lilly profit forecast trimmed as vaccines dent U.S. demand for COVID-19 drugs

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By Manas Mishra

(Reuters) -Eli Lilly and Co on Tuesday missed expectations for first-quarter profit and cut the top end of its full-year earnings forecast as demand waned for its COVID-19 antibody therapies with the U.S. vaccine rollout in full swing.

Nearly 30% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, hitting demand for antibody drugs that already suffered from slower-than-expected uptake by hospitals.

"We didn't get into this thinking about margins. We wanted to be useful during the pandemic," said Lilly Chief Executive Officer David Ricks.

The company's single antibody therapy is no longer being used in the United States after lab tests showed bamlanivimab alone was not effective against some of the new coronavirus variants now widely circulating. It is still being used effectively in combination with etesevimab, another Lilly antibody drug.

Sales of other high-profile Lilly drugs also fell short of Wall Street expectations and its shares fell 3% to $181.64 in morning trading.

"We assumed lower sales of COVID-19 antibodies would impact the quarter and guidance .... but the extent of the miss, especially for important products such as Taltz and Verzenio, is surprising to us," said Mizuho analyst Vamil Divan.

Sales of psoriasis drug Taltz fell 9% to $403.2 million, missing estimates by $82 million, due to lower prices. The company said it expects the drug to return to net sales growth in the second quarter.

Sales of breast cancer drug Verzenio, facing tough competition, rose 43% to $269 million, shy of Wall Street estimates of $290 million.

Lilly reported sales of $810.1 million from its COVID-19 drugs in the quarter, below estimates of $985 million and fourth-quarter sales of $871.2 million.

The company now expects adjusted full-year earnings of $7.80 to $8.00 per share, from its prior forecast of $7.75 to $8.40 per share.

Lilly sees 2021 antibody combination therapy sales of $1 billion to $1.5 billion. It had previously forecast sales as high as $2 billion.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.87 per share, missing analysts' estimates by 26 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Bill Berkrot)