Eli Lilly and Company (LLY -0.13%) stock has risen more than 20% this year while the overall stock market tanked. And the good news for Lilly keeps on coming.

The big drugmaker announced its first-quarter results before the market opened on Thursday. Surprisingly, the novel coronavirus pandemic actually helped boost the company's performance. Here are the highlights from Lilly's Q1 update.

Lab technicians looking at a slide.

Image source: Getty Images.

By the numbers

Eli Lilly announced Q1 revenue of $5.9 billion, a 15% increase from the $5.1 billion reported in the same quarter of the previous year. This result easily topped the average analysts' revenue estimate of $5.51 billion.

The company reported net income of $1.5 billion, or $1.60 per share, based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Lilly posted GAAP earnings of $4.2 billion, or $4.31 per share, in the same period in 2019. 

Lilly's adjusted net income in the first quarter totaled $1.6 billion, or $1.75 per share. This reflected a solid improvement from adjusted net income of $1.2 billion, or $1.33 per share, reported in the prior-year period. Wall Street analysts estimated that the company would post Q1 earnings of $1.48 per share.

Behind the numbers

The COVID-19 outbreak actually boosted Lilly's Q1 performance in some ways. CFO Josh Smiley said that the company's revenue "was augmented by higher patient and supply chain purchasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Lilly also jumped into the battle against the novel coronavirus. Its immunology drug Olumiant is being evaluated as a treatment for COVID-19 in a late-stage clinical study that's being conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The drugmaker is advancing LY3127804 to a phase 2 study in pneumonia patients with COVID-19. It also is partnering with AbCellera to develop antibodies for treating and preventing COVID-19.

The big story for Lilly in Q1, though, was the performance of its top products. Sales for diabetes drug Trulicity soared 40% year over year to $1.23 billion. Lilly reported that Taltz generated sales of nearly $444 million in the first quarter, a 76% jump from the prior-year period. Year-over-year sales growth for breast cancer drug Verzenio and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Olumiant also topped 70%.

Several other drugs also delivered strong growth that wasn't quite as impressive. Insulin glargine injection Basaglar raked in nearly $304 million in Q1, up 21% year over year. Sales for cancer drug Cyramza also jumped 21% to $239 million. Cymbalta's sales rose 28% year over year to more than $210 million. Lilly reported sales for type 2 diabetes drug Jardiance of nearly $268 million, a 31% increase over the prior-year period total.

With such tremendous sales growth for so many products, how did Lilly's GAAP earnings fall from the year-ago period? It wasn't due to any problems. Instead, the negative year-over-year comparison stemmed from earnings of $3.68 billion in the first quarter of 2019 related to the spin-off of Elanco Animal Health

Looking ahead

Lilly continues to project full-year 2020 revenue will be between $23.7 billion and $24.2 billion. However, the uncertainties about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the company to widen its full-year earnings guidance range. Lilly now expects GAAP earnings per share (EPS) for 2020 will be between $6.20 and $6.40 with adjusted non-GAAP EPS between $6.70 and $6.90.

While Lilly has weathered the storm quite well so far, the company acknowledges that the economic challenges resulting from COVID-19 could still impact it later this year and perhaps for a longer period. But Smiley said that "the long-term fundamentals of our business remain strong."