Global pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) took the "slow but steady wins the race" approach with its first-quarter earnings release before the opening bell this morning.

For the quarter, Bristol-Myers' revenue actually fell 1% to $3.81 billion, but this also included the disposition of its half of the global diabetes alliance assets to AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN). In return for the sale it received $2.7 billion in cash and $600 million in milestone payments during the quarter due to the FDA approval of type 2 diabetes drug Farxiga. Excluding this sale revenue rose 5% to $3.63 billion.

The main driver of growth this past quarter was Bristol-Myers' oncology products such as Yervoy and Sprycel which saw worldwide revenue increase 18% and 19%, respectively, to $271 million and $342 million. Rheumatoid arthritis medication Orencia also shined brightly, up 13% to $363 million. On the flipside EU patent expirations began to take their toll on the Sustiva franchise with worldwide revenue down 18% to $319 million.

A tight lid on costs helped improve Bristol-Myers' gross margin by 230 basis point to 74.6% during the quarter and pushed its GAAP profits up by 51% to $0.56 per share from $0.37 in the prior year period. Although research and development costs increased 2%, they were easily offset by a 4% dip in marketing, selling, and administrative expenses, and a 14% drop in advertising and product promotion. A lower effective tax rate of just 5% also helped boost profits.

Looking ahead, Bristol-Myers anticipates full-year revenue of $15.2 billion to $15.8 billion on GAAP EPS of $1.70-$1.80, which is down from a prior forecast of $1.75-$1.90. The company anticipates gross margin will be in the 75%-76% range, and that advertising and SG&A costs will continue to decrease, while R&D costs will rise by midsingle-digits.

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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