By Tamara Mathias and Michael Erman
(Reuters) - Pfizer Inc on Tuesday reported first-quarter profit that beat Wall Street estimates and slightly raised its 2019 earnings forecast, as the company reined in costs and recorded higher sales of blood thinner Eliquis and Prevnar pneumonia vaccine.
Shares of the largest U.S. drugmaker rose more than 3 percent to $40.84.
As blockbuster pain medicine Lyrica faces competition from generics, growth at Pfizer has slowed, driving the company to invest in cancer drugs and gene therapies as it works to launch new medicines.
Pfizer has pointed to experimental drugs like heart medicine tafamidis, a potential blockbuster it expects to be approved within the next few months, as part of its plan to grow sales, and said it will continue to consider bolt-on acquisitions worth "a few billion dollars."
But it has also suffered setbacks among other candidates in its plan to launch up to 15 new drugs with at least $1 billion annual sales potential each over a five-year period. That included disappointing clinical results for non-opioid pain drug tanezumab, as well as two other discontinued trials.
"We are not overly reliant on a single pipeline opportunity," Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, who succeeded CEO Ian Read at the start of the year, said on a conference call with analysts.
In a phone interview with Reuters, Bourla said he expects a high rate of approvals.
"If you use the average industry success rate, we should do more," he said.
"So far I have been very pleased," he said, citing recent positive results in five late-stage and three midstage clinical trials.
Pfizer said its business development priorities are now focused on enhancing its pipeline of drugs in development.
Meanwhile Eliquis, which it shares with Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Prevnar keep putting up big sales.
The blood clot preventer had sales of $1.01 billion in the quarter, above consensus estimates of $935 million. Prevnar sales of $1.49 billion topped Wall Street estimates of $1.39 billion.
The company expects mid-single-digit operational revenue growth post-2020 through 2025, Bourla said.
Two of Pfizer's U.S. rivals also reported first-quarter results on Tuesday.
Strong vaccine and cancer drug sales helped Merck & Co top Wall Street earnings expectations and sent its shares higher. But Eli Lilly and Co shares fell after it reported sales of closely-watched diabetes and psoriasis treatments that fell short of analyst estimates.
Pfizer pushed its 2019 adjusted earnings forecast marginally higher and now expects $2.83 to $2.93 per share, up from a prior projection of $2.82 to $2.92. It maintained its full-year revenue forecast of $52 billion to $54 billion.
Excluding special items, the company earned 85 cents per share, beating analysts' estimate of 75 cents.
Net income rose 9 percent to $3.88 billion, or 68 cents per share, in the first quarter.
Revenue rose 1.6 percent to $13.12 billion, ahead of estimates of $12.99 billion.
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Patrick Graham, Shinjini Ganguli and Bill Berkrot)