Avastin Drives Genentech

Genentech ( DNA) kept climbing Tuesday, paced by a stellar second-quarter earnings report and the euphoria around its burgeoning wonder drug Avastin.

The stock, which has risen more than 50% this year alone, was recently trading at $84.75 on Instinet, up $1.25, or 1.5%, from its Monday close. The price is 75 times the 2005 earnings guidance that Genentech offered in its second-quarter release and 50 times the 2006 Thomson First Call consensus.

Genentech's second-quarter profit jumped 73% from a year ago to $296.2 million, or 27 cents a share, while earnings before special items came in at $328.6 million, or 30 cents a share. Analysts were looking for 26 cents a share on the latter basis.

Overall revenue was $1.53 billion, up from $1.13 billion a year ago and about $40 million above the Wall Street consensus. The upside was attributable to better-than-expected sales of Avastin, which did $245.7 million in revenue in the period, about $10 million better than expected.

In a late conference call Monday, the company's chief financial officer, David Ebersman, chalked up Avastin's performance to growing acceptance among colorectal specialists and increasing use outside of that diagnosis. Ebersman estimated that about 10% of Avastin patients had other diseases.

Sales of breast-cancer treatment Herceptin were $152.4 million, about $10 million better than expected, while sales of the lung-cancer drug Tarceva were $70.2 million, about $15 million ahead of forecasts. The main disappointment was Rituxan, which saw sales rise 15% from a year ago to $450.3 million, about $20 million below Wall Street estimates.

The company noted on its conference call that Herceptin benefited from increasing use in so-called adjuvant therapy for breast cancer, in which the drug is used to kill cancer cells that might have spread from the breast. The use resulted in a so-called "Dear Doctor" letter in which the company alerted doctors to the possibility of unforeseen consequences of off-label use.

The company forecast full-year EPS growth of more than 35% over 2004's 83 cents a share. That implies 2005 earnings of $1.13 a share, matching the Wall Street consensus estimate. Genentech has traditionally been conservative in its profit guidance.

"We are actively working with the Food and Drug Administration to prioritize the nine potential filings relating to our significant Phase III trial results, while we continue to develop more than 30 projects in the pipeline primarily in our oncology and immunology focus areas," Susan D. Hellmann, president of Genentech's product development, said in a statement.

"We currently anticipate filing Herceptin for adjuvant breast cancer in the first quarter of 2006 and expect to provide updates on filing timelines for Avastin data upon the completion of preliminary discussions with the FDA," she continued.

Genentech is preparing for potential FDA filings for Avastin for second-line metastatic colorectal cancer, first-line nonsquamous nonsmall cell lung cancer, and metastatic breast cancer. Additional filings are also in the works for Rituxan, as well as for Lucentis, a product for wet age-related macular degeneration.

In a conference call Monday, the company did admit concerns of supply risks from manufacturing at 100% capacity and warned of possible higher costs from hiring and maintaining employees.

However, Genentech said it will focus on maintaining its corporate culture during the company's rapid growth. It plans to keep its broad-based stock option plan similar to other same-sized companies, saying the resulting costs are outweighed by the benefits.

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