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Amgen warns of sales slowdown after exceeding 2016 estimates

Amgen Inc. ended 2016 by reporting an increase in sales and exceeding forecasts — yet even with a positive clinical trial in their pocket, executives have warned of slower growth in the year ahead.

In a Feb. 2 earnings call, executives said that sales were positive for several key drugs and a new clinical trial for cholesterol drug Repatha showed promising results in lowering heart attack and stroke risk. However, CFO David Meline said they expect 2017 revenue from royalties and licensing to be about $200 million less than in 2016.

Citing unfavorable foreign-exchange headwinds, lower net selling prices and uncertainty over when insurers will expand coverage for Repatha, Meline also said they were giving wider-than-usual revenue and non-GAAP EPS guidance for the year.

Market share for the company's best-selling medicine, rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel, remained relatively steady in the fourth quarter, although those sales benefited from an increase in end-customer inventory levels, said Anthony Hooper, executive vice president of global commercial operations.

"We expect about $150 million of this to reverse in the first quarter of this year," Hooper said, adding that the company was pursuing new indications for the drug.

Amgen was recently able to stave off U.S. biosimilar competition for Enbrel with a patent protection challenge to Novartis AG, but appears to be preparing for its arrival to market.

"Given this long period of patent protection, Enbrel will continue to generate significant cash flows for many years to come," Hooper said. "We do not expect any long-acting biosimilar competition until fourth quarter 2017 assuming the current interpretation of 180 days is upheld."

CEO Robert Bradway said Amgen would present the full findings of its Repatha study at the American College of Cardiology session in Washington, D.C., in March. Executives declined to comment further on the findings during the call.