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Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY - Get Report) posted stronger than-expected first quarter earnings Thursday, and boosted one of its key profit forecast, after seeing off an activist challenge to its $74 billion takeover of cancer specialist Celgene Corp. (CELG - Get Report) earlier this month.

Bristol-Myers said non-GAAP earnings for the three months ending in March came in at $1.10 per share, up 17% from the same period last year and two cents ahead of the Street consensus forecast. Group revenues, Bristol-Myers said, rose 14% to $5.9 billion, again topping forecasts of $5.72 billion.

Looking into 2019, Bristol-Myers boosted its GAAP earnings forecast to between $3.84 and $3.94 per share and said it sees a gross margin of around 70% of revenues. Non-GAAP earnings forecasts were confirmed in the range of $4.10 to $4.20 per share, compared to a Refintiv estimate of $4.18 per share.

"We had a very good first quarter during which the company remained focused on delivering strong sales growth of our prioritized brands and continuing to advance the science in our disease areas of focus," said CEO Giovanni Caforio. "We also achieved approval from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene shareholders to move forward with the acquisition. Looking forward, we are focused on our integration planning with Celgene and creating a leading biopharma company, with potential first-in- and best-in-class medicines, to address the unmet needs of our patients and create long-term substantial growth."

Bristol-Myers shares were marked 0.1% lower at the start of trading following the earnings release to change hands at $44.56 each.

Bristol-Myers secured 75% shareholder support to approve its $74 billion takeover of Celgene on April 12, putting the company closer to finalizing the largest pharmaceutical merger in history.

Bristol-Myers' position took a positive turn in late March after an influential shareholder advisory group recommended investors vote in favor of the cancer drug specialist's takeover, and a key activist dropped its opposition to the deal.

Institutional Shareholder Services recommended the deal, which had been challenged by key Bristol-Myers shareholders Starboard Value and Wellington Management, ahead of the April vote.