Investors and analysts appear increasingly impatient for Eli Lilly and Co. to provide a more concrete plan to address
its looming patent expirations.
So even after Lilly’s third-quarter profit soared 22 percent and it raised its year-end profit forecast, the company’s stock price slipped 3 percent in morning trading.
“The pipeline remains lackluster,” Les Funtleyder, a health care analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York, wrote in a note to investors.
For the first time publicly, Lilly officials admitted the obvious: Their pipeline products aren’t likely to offset the revenue the company will lose its two bestsellers, Zyprexa and Cymbalta, lose patent exclusivity in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
"They may not be there in time to recover immediately from the Zyprexa-Cymbalta hit,” Chief Financial Officer Derica Rice said during a conference call today with analysts. Several analysts pressed Lilly for details on how quickly certain pipeline drugs can develop or whether Lilly is now open to a big merger as a fallback strategy.
Lilly officials, as they have always done, resisted talk of a big merger.
Rice said the pipeline "is where our focus is at this time, and it’s not on large-scale M&A."
In its third quarter, Lilly earned nearly $942 million, or 86 cents per share, compared with a loss of $466 million, or 43 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.
The year-ago loss resulted from Lilly's acquisition of New York-based ImClone Systems Inc. Assuming Lilly had owned ImClone for all of 2008, and excluding other extraordinary charges this year, the company would have earned $1.20 per share, an increase of 22 percent over the same quarter a year ago. On that basis, Wall Street analysts were expecting Lilly to earn $1.02 per share.
"Our performance in the third quarter once again was driven by volume-based sales growth, improving gross margins and tight control of operating expenses, allowing us to deliver very attractive earnings growth," Lilly CEO John Lechleiter said in a statement.
Lilly's revenue rose 7 percent in the quarter over the same period of 2008, to $5.56 billion.
Its strongest drug was Alimta, which treats various stages of non-small cell lung cancer. Its sales grew 47 percent compared with the third quarter last year. The antidepressant Cymbalta and the insulin drug Humalog also posted double-digits sales growth in the third quarter.
Lilly recorded a charge of 23 cents per share because it agreed last week to sell its Tippecanoe Laboratories plant in Lafayette to a German firm. That charge, before taxes, consisted of a $355 million accounting charge and $38 million in cash that Lilly will pay out to its 700 employees at Tippecanoe as severance.
The company also took a charge to abandon two phase-3 products designed to treat osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis.
So far this year, Lilly has earned $2.31 per share, excluding a charge of 6 cents per share to settle lawsuits brought by various states alleging illegal marketing of Lilly's bestseller, Zyprexa.
The company has not been issuing quarterly profit forecasts. But, in July, it predicted it would earn $4.20 to $4.30 per share for the entire year, excluding special charges. Today it raised that forecast to a range of $4.30 to $.40 per share, excluding special items.
Lilly’s shares traded as low as $34.06 this morning, down 3.3 percent. They are off roughly 13 percent so far this year.