Johnson & Johnson has posted an 8.5% increase in sales for the first quarter, helped by a strong showing at its pharmaceuticals division.

Group net income came in at $3.50 billion, down 10.6% compared to the like, year-earlier period which was affected by litigation and integration charges of $600 million. Turnover reached $17.51 billion.

Worldwide pharmaceutical sales were up 10.4% to $6.77 billion (and climbed 14.7% in the USA). J&J’s biggest seller was once again the Merck & Co-partnered anti-inflammatory Remicade (infliximab), sales of which were up 5.2% to $1.60 billion, while the latter’s follow-up Simponi (golimumab) more than doubled to $237 million.

The prostate cancer treatment Zytiga (abiraterone) contributed $344 million to J&J's coffers, up 72.0%, while sales of Velcade (bortezomib) for multiple myeloma were flat at $353 million. Stelara (ustekinumab) for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis climbed 56.6% to $346 million.
The HIV therapy Prezista (darunavir) rose 13.3% to $367 million.

J&J’s anaemia therapy Procrit/Eprex (epoetin alfa) inched up 0.5% to $378 million, while patent losses meant the proton pump inhibitor Aciphex (rabeprazole) fell 31.5% to $152 million. The bloodthinner Xarelto (rivaroxaban) brought in $158 million, while the hepatitis C drug Incivo (telapravir) rose 24.9% to $162 million.

The healthcare giant also noted that sales at its medical devices and diagnostics (MD&D) unit were up 10.2% at $7.06 billion, while turnover from its consumer division edged up 2.2% to $3.68 billion. The rise was due to a 14.4% rise on US over-the-counter sales to $436 million.

Chief executive Alex Gorsky said the firm delivered solid first-quarter results "led by the success of many of our recently-launched pharmaceutical products and the addition of Synthes to our orthopaedics business". He also mentioned the improvement of the OTC unit, which has suffered thousands of recalls over the last few years, saying "we continue to make progress in returning a reliable supply of high quality products". J&J confirmed its earnings guidance for full-year 2013 of $5.35-$5.45 per share, excluding special items.

Healthy pipeline

Commenting on the results, Ana Nicholls, healthcare analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said that J&J has put its patent expiries behind it, and is benefiting from strong sales of new products such as Xarelto. She also likes the look of its newer drugs such as the "ground-breaking" diabetes drugs Invokana (canagliflozin), which was approved in the USA at the end of March, as well as two therapies lined up for approval - the hepatitis C treatment simeprevir and the leukaemia drug ibrutinib.

Ms Nicholls added that "J&J's performance still appears to justify its reputation as one of the strongest companies in the sector, though the business environment remains challenging".