Ionis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:IONS) started the year off on a positive note, doubling revenue in the first quarter thanks to a large licensing payment from one of its partners.

Ionis Pharmaceuticals results: The raw numbers

Metric

Q1 2019

Q1 2018

Year-Over-Year Change

Revenue

$297 million

$144 million

106%

Income from operations

$121 million

($3 million)

N/A

Earnings per share

$0.62

($0.01)

N/A

Data source: Ionis Pharmaceuticals.

What happened with Ionis Pharmaceuticals this quarter?

  • Most -- $229 million -- of the overall revenue came from research and development collaborations. Novartis (NYSE:NVS) contributed $150 million for licensing the lipid-lowering drug AKCEA-APO(a)-LRx, and Roche added $35 million as a milestone payment for enrolling the first patient in the phase 3 study of IONIS-HTTRx for Huntington's disease.
  • Revenue from sales of drugs on the market was $68 million, 62% higher than the year-ago quarter. Royalties from Biogen (NASDAQ:BIIB) on spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug Spinraza added $60 million, while Tegsedi added $7 million. Tegsedi is sold by Ionis' spinoff, Akcea Therapeutics (NASDAQ:AKCA), but since Ionis is still a majority owner, the revenue is consolidated into Ionis' financials.
  • Waylivra was approved in the EU for patients with familial chylomicronemia syndrome, a disease that results in high lipid levels. Akcea plans to launch the drug in Germany in the third quarter and in additional EU countries in 2020. Ionis and Akcea are still working with the FDA to figure out how to get the drug approved stateside after the agency rejected their marketing application last year.
  • On the pipeline front, in addition to Roche's aforementioned phase 3 study for IONIS-HTTRx, Biogen advanced tofersen, which used to go by IONIS-SOD1Rx, into phase 3 development for ALS patients with a SOD1 mutation.
Doctor talking to a patient in an exam room

Image source: Getty Images.

What management had to say

Elizabeth Hougen, Ionis Pharmaceuticals' chief financial officer, noted the strong sales of Spinraza have come from Biogen's move into adults with less severe forms of the disease: "Biogen believes the global SMA patient population is significantly larger than initial estimates, which supports their expectation of continued growth from patient uptake in new markets. In the U.S., continued penetration among these adolescent and adult SMA patients is expected to be a significant driver of growth."

Hougen also took a jab at Tegsedi's competitors, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals' Onpattro and Pfizer's Vyndamax: "Notably, we are seeing patients switching to Tegsedi from both competitive medicines in the U.S. and EU."

Of course, Alnylam racked up $26 million in revenue from Onpattro, compared to Ionis and Akcea's $7 million for Tegsedi, so there probably aren't that many patients switching.

Looking forward

Just one quarter into the year, Ionis is 40% of its way to hitting the company's 2019 revenue guidance of more than $725 million. Management wasn't willing to increase the guidance just yet, but hinted that it might in future quarters.

On the pipeline front, Ionis, Akcea, and Novartis plan to launch a phase 3 cardiovascular outcomes study for AKCEA-APO(a)-LRx later this year. Ionis and Akcea also plan to start a phase 3 program for AKCEA-TTR-LRx, which they're testing for treating the cardiomyopathy form of TTR. All told, Ionis thinks it'll have at least 10 medications in phase 3 development by the end of next year.