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Image source: GlaxoSmithKline.

The upcoming week is a important one for Big Pharma, with a number of high-profile drug developers reporting their third-quarter earnings results. One such company bound to attract the attention of Wall Street and investors is U.K.-based giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK).

Slated to report its Q3 results on Oct. 28, 2015, GlaxoSmithKline is projected by Wall Street to deliver $9.4 billion in sales, more or less on par with what it generated in Q3 2014. However, with its top line contracting on the heels of the imminent entrance of generic competitors to COPD and asthma therapy Advair, it's really anyone's guess where Glaxo's top and bottom line will wind up in the third quarter.

Although GlaxoSmithKline's headline numbers are bound to be closely monitored by Wall Street, I wouldn't suggest they be the only figure you concentrate on. It's far more important to understand how a company achieved its results in its recent quarter than to know the headline figures themselves. With this in mind, here are a few questions you should be asking leading up to the release of GlaxoSmithKline's results.

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Image source: GlaxoSmithKline.

Is the uptake of Breo and Anoro progressing?
One of the bigger question marks leading up to this earnings report is exactly how well the uptake of next-generation respiratory therapies Breo Ellipta and Anoro Ellipta are progressing. It took Breo nearly two years to get over its initial coverage struggles, but in recent quarters Breo sales have flourished, growing to around $83 million in Q2. This can be attributed to better physician education of the inhalable long-acting drug, as well as improved insurer coverage and marketing efforts.

The big questions are whether Breo is continuing to gain momentum after two straight quarters of substantive growth and if Anoro is still struggling to grow. Glaxo's management team warned investors last conference call that Anoro may struggle to break physicians' habits of utilizing Advair then Spiriva, or Spiriva then Advair. Educating physicians of their new option is a daunting and time-consuming task, and investors should pay attention to whether this is a one-quarter or multiple-quarter problem for Anoro.

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Image source: GlaxoSmithKline.

Are vaccines pulling their weight?
Earlier this year, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis (NYSE:NVS) announced that they'd completed their three-part asset swap deal. Under the terms of the deal, Novartis agreed to acquire Glaxo's oncology business, Glaxo purchased Novartis' vaccine business (minus its influenza vaccine operations), and the two formed a joint venture for their consumer products segments.

Glaxo's beefed-up position in vaccines should give it better pricing power, and it certainly provides the company a more diversified lineup. What's concerning is that vaccines can be hit or miss depending on government demand and disease prevalence. Thus, the third quarter could give investors some idea of whether Glaxo's added diversity will be a stabilizing force in its vaccine segment or if results can be expected to be lumpy moving forward.

Can Glaxo really support its current dividend?
GlaxoSmithKline's management team has made maintaining an 80-pence annual dividend payout a priority through 2017. However, with Advair sales expected to be halved between now and 2020, it might be difficult for Glaxo to continue paying out such a robust dividend.

It's seemingly a hot-button issue every earnings report, but investors should pay close attention to management's commentary regarding future payouts. The aforementioned asset swap did provide in the neighborhood of $8 billion in cash for Glaxo to help support its dividend, but the company also wound up reducing its shareholder returns from an estimated $6 billion to $1.5 billion, potentially signaling its weakened earnings state in lieu of declining next-generation COPD and weakening Advair sales. Glaxo's nearly 6% dividend yield is a big reason why its stock retains its P/E premium relative to its peers, so if this dividend is cut, Glaxo's stock price could wind up taking a substantial hit.

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Image source: Flickr user Nguyen Hung Vu.

Are more divestitures or acquisitions on the horizon?
In addition to its transformative asset swap with Novartis, Glaxo also announced in August that it was divesting its rights to ofatumumab, better known as Arzerra, to Novartis for autoimmune indications, including multiple sclerosis. The deal included $300 million up front for Glaxo, $200 million payable once phase 3 studies in relapsing-remitting MS are begun, and up to $534 million in contingent payments based on certain development milestones.

This divestiture should have investors wondering whether there are more non-core assets that Glaxo may be looking to monetize, or if Glaxo is planning to go on the offensive with the cash hoard it's grabbed from Novartis over the past year. Look for commentary from GlaxoSmithKline's management team in Q3 as to how it plans to approach its M&A strategy moving forward.

What should you do?
Perhaps the most pervasive question with Glaxo's Q3 earnings date quickly approaching is what you should do as an investor. The answer is a not-so-surprising "nothing."

Investing for the long term means you're liable to experience a few bumps in the road, just as Glaxo is dealing with now. Unless the investing thesis for GlaxoSmithKline's business model is broken, long-term investors probably have no need to sell their holdings prior to the report. Likewise, there's little need for investors on the outside looking in to necessarily chase Glaxo's stock here without getting a good look at its Q3 results and management's commentary regarding the company's long-term outlook and dividend.

Regardless of what camp you fall into, October 28 promises to be an important date, so circle your calendars.

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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