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 (NASDAQ: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.

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