AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) beat expectations the first three quarters of 2018, turning in an exceptionally strong performance in Q3. Those third-quarter results prompted the big drugmaker to boost its full-year 2018 adjusted earnings outlook.

The company reports its fourth-quarter results on Friday, Jan. 25. Will AbbVie continue its streak of outperforming expectations? Here are three things you can expect in its Q4 earnings update.

Man looking at a wall with drawings of money bags and question marks

Image source: Getty Images.

1. A turning point for Humira

As Humira goes, so goes AbbVie -- at least for now. The fourth quarter will be a significant turning point for AbbVie's top-selling drug, as it faced biosimilar competition in Europe for the first time ever.

CEO Rick Gonzalez said in the company's Q3 earnings call that discounting for biosimilars to Humira was "on the higher end of the planning scenarios that we had laid out." Instead of 18% to 20% discounts, AbbVie saw discounting of 26% to 27% in the first several weeks of biosimilar competition for Humira.

You can probably expect international sales for Humira to fall to around $1.3 billion from nearly $1.6 billion in the third quarter. Any decline significantly greater than that will cause concerns. On the other hand, Humira should continue to generate solid growth in the U.S. market, with sales probably increasing around 12% year over year to roughly $3.7 billion.  

2. More strong growth in hematologic oncology

One area for AbbVie that continues to knock the ball out of the park is its hematologic oncology franchise, which uses a lot of syllables to refer to the company's two blood cancer drugs, Imbruvica and Venclexta. Imbruvica's sales soared more than 40% year over year in Q3, while sales for Venclexta nearly tripled from the prior-year period.

It won't be surprising for Imbruvica's growth to moderate a little in the fourth quarter of 2018. AbbVie's full-year 2018 guidance implies that Q4 sales could be around the same level as the drug made in the third quarter. However, that would still represent strong year-over-year growth of nearly 30%.

But Venclexta should pick up considerable momentum in Q4. Gonzalez noted in his comments during the Q3 conference call that AbbVie was "starting to hit the inflection point" with Venclexta thanks to the release of its great results from the Murano phase 3 study in acute myeloid leukemia (AML).    

3. Moderating growth for Mavyret

Mavyret has been a resounding success for AbbVie. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug was launched in late 2017 and now claims roughly 50% of the global HCV market.

Expect Mavyret to make a solid contribution to AbbVie's top line in the fourth quarter. However, it's likely that the growth will begin to moderate, particularly in international markets. 

AbbVie's full-year 2018 outlook for its HCV franchise called for sales of above $3.5 billion. During the first nine months of 2018, Mayvyret and older HCV drug Viekira generated revenue of $2.6 billion. Therefore, AbbVie expects total sales of around $900 million for the two drugs in Q4, nearly all of which will stem from Mayvyret. By comparison, AbbVie's HCV drugs made $839 million in Q3 and $510 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. 

A changing story

The storyline is changing for AbbVie. Humira will definitely dominate the company's quarterly updates for several more years. However, AbbVie will soon be talking a lot more about its new immunology drugs, risankizumab and upadacitinib, both of which could win regulatory approval this year.

In addition, a couple of AbbVie's newer drugs could become much more important for the company in the not-too-distant future. Venclexta has a great opportunity in AML and could become a megablockbuster. Orilissa has already received approval for managing endometriosis pain. AbbVie expects to file for approval of the drug in treating uterine fibroids this year as well.

What doesn't seem likely to change with AbbVie's story, though, is its continued strong earnings growth. The company expects to wrap up 2018 with solid adjusted earnings per share and keep the momentum going in 2019. With promising new drugs and new indications for existing drugs potentially on the way, AbbVie just might be able to beat expectations for a long time to come.

Check out the latest AbbVie earnings call transcript.