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EARNINGS PREVIEW: US Biotechs' 1Q To Focus On Deals, Pipelines

By Tess Stynes Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: Investors will likely focus on efforts by large U.S. biopharmaceutical companies to expand their drug pipelines likely as these firms report first-quarter results. As with traditional drug makers, biotech companies have been seeking to expand their range of treatments as sales slow for older drugs and competition continues to intensify. The market will also be watching for how acquisition strategies in the sector are faring. Other issues facing the sector include how the industry deals with the introductions of what are known as biosimilar versions of expensive and complex medicines made from biological matter. COMPANIES TO WATCH: Amgen Inc. (AMGN) - reports April 24 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.45 a share on $3.93 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $1.20 a share, or $1.34 excluding acquisition-related expenses and other items, on revenue of $3.71 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Amgen--a biotech pioneer and now the biggest stand-alone biotech company--recently completed its $1.16 billion acquisition of Micromet Inc., a move expected to strengthen Amgen's cancer-research pipeline. It also disclosed two more deals after the first quarter ended. In addition, Amgen and AstraZeneca PLC (AZN, AZN.LN) recently agreed to jointly develop and commercialize five experimental Amgen drugs that target inflammatory diseases. Meanwhile, a federal advisory panel dealt a setback to Amgen in February, when it rejected the company's proposal to expand the use of its osteoporosis drug Xgeva--one of two bone-loss drugs on which the company has been counting to lift overall sales. Amgen's leadership is in transition, with longtime Chief Executive Kevin Sharer set to retire next month. Amgen's president and chief operating officer, Robert Bradway, will take the helm. Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) - reports April 26 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 94 cents a share on $2.2 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of 80 cents a share, or 87 cents excluding acquisition-related, restructuring and other expenses, on revenue of $1.93 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Investors likely will be watching for any details regarding hepatitis-C drug candidates that Gilead gained with its $11.2 billion acquisition of Pharmasset Inc. earlier this year. Gilead has been hoping to duplicate its dominance in HIV drugs in the hotly contested market for hepatitis-C treatments. However, a key drug candidate it obtained with Pharmasset, GS-7977, hit a setback during the quarter as a majority of hepatitis-C patients in one arm of a clinical trial had a relapse. However, some of Gilead's other drug candidates have made headway. U.S. regulators accepted Gilead's new drug application for its "Quad" combination HIV drug--which analysts view as a potential growth driver. Gilead's antiretroviral drug Truvada was granted a priority-review schedule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, shortening the timeline on what could become the first treatment labeled for HIV prevention. Celgene Corp. (CELG) - reports April 26 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.13 share on $1.32 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of 54 cents a share, or 83 cents excluding acquisition-related impacts and other items, on revenue of $1.13 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Celgene--which gets most of its revenue from Revlimid--has aimed to expand the blood-cancer treatment's uses to new diseases, as well as broadening its portfolio to other areas. Last month, Celgene completed its acquisition of private biotechnology company Avila Therapeutics Inc. for up to $925 million in cash and potential milestone payments. Avila's lead product candidate, called AVL-292, targets cancer and autoimmune diseases and is currently in early-stage testing. Celgene, which has a strong pipeline of treatments in later phase trials, has predicted that 2012 would see catalysts in treatments for other diseases, including oncology and inflammation and immunology. Biogen Idec Inc. (BIIB) - reports May 1 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of $1.48 a share on $1.31 billion in revenue, compared with earnings of $1.20 a share, or $1.43 excluding acquisition and restructuring-related items, on revenue of $1.2 billion a year earlier. Key Issues: Investors are keenly focused on Biogen's late-stage pipeline, including the oral multiple-sclerosis drug BG-12. The treatment is currently under consideration for approval in the U.S. and Europe. Strong BG-12 data helped to power Biogen's shares last year, and the company will be relying on data expected later this year for experimental treatments for hemophilia and Lou Gehrig's disease to keep the momentum going. In January, Chief Executive George Scangos said Biogen would "invest significantly" this year to fuel its pipeline and prepare for product launches. (The Thomson Reuters estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481;

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