July 25, 2012 / 2:51 PM / 5 years ago

Regeneron boosts Eylea sales forecast

(Reuters) - Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc (REGN.O) significantly boosted its 2012 sales forecast for its new eye drug Eylea for the third time this year as second-quarter sales of the sight-restoring medicine cruised past Wall Street's rising expectations.

The biotechnology company said on Wednesday that it expected full-year Eylea sales of $700 million to $750 million. In April, it had forecast Eylea sales of $500 million to $550 million, nearly double its previous projection.

Shares in Regeneron surged as much as 11.5 percent in early trading on Wednesday, but gave back most of those gains as some analysts questioned how long Eylea sales growth could be sustained.

"While the launch has been a success thus far, questions remain regarding the durability of growth with known ... market dynamics and competition on the intermediate-term horizon," wrote J.P. Morgan analyst Geoff Meacham in a research note.

Second-quarter sales of the eye drug, which since its November approval has been gaining market share from Roche Holding AG's ROG.VX Lucentis and off-label use of the cancer drug Avastin, were $194 million, up 57 percent from the previous quarter.

On Tuesday, Robert W. Baird analysts raised their Eylea sales forecast for the quarter to $155 million, ahead of Wall Street consensus expectations of about $143 million, and even that proved to be not aggressive enough.

"If we hit our new forecast we will be one of the best launches in the history of the biotechnology industry," Chief Executive Leonard Schleifer said in a telephone interview.

"We got a very good label for the product that clearly stated what we think are its advantages to patients, and doctors tried the product and I think were very pleased," he said of the early success.

FEWER INJECTIONS, LOWER COST

Eylea treats wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) -- the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. Like its Roche rivals, it has shown an ability to restore some lost vision, but offers the advantage of roughly half as many injections in the eye as well as a lower cost than Lucentis.

"We're taking market share based on new patients, based on people switching from Lucentis and based on people switching from Avastin," said Schleifer, who estimated that Eylea currently has about 14 percent of the AMD market, giving it plenty of room to grow.

"There's an opportunity to grow this product in the United States, based on increasing the market share as well as hopefully getting new indications," the CEO said. "There's also the possibility to grow product revenues for us based on geographic expansion."

Regeneron owns full U.S. rights to Eylea and will get about half the profits from any overseas sales from marketing partner Bayer Ag (BAYGn.DE).

Regeneron posted second-quarter net profit of $76.7 million, or 70 cents per share, marking its second profitable quarter. The company posted a loss of $62.5 million, or 69 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Revenue of $304 million for the quarter easily beat Wall Street expectations of $257 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Regeneron is not expected to depend solely on Eylea for long as the company has several other promising products in development for a variety of disease categories.

"We have a robust pipeline of about a dozen different things in clinical development at all stages," Schleifer said. "The best we hope may be yet to come."

Reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Jeffrey Benkoe and Sofina Mirza-Reid

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