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Drugmakers post healthy results

* Pfizer, Schering, Forest, Actelion, Biogen beat forecasts
/ Source: Reuters

* Pfizer, Schering, Forest, Actelion, Biogen beat forecasts

* Roche Q3 sales held back by loss of Tamiflu revenue

* Pharmaceutical sector consolidates defensive reputation

* Pfizer up 2%, Schering-Plow up 3%, Roche off 4% pct

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Three of the world's top drugmakers posted healthy quarterly results on Tuesday, underlining the defensive nature of the sector at a time of financial turmoil.

Pfizer Inc -- the world's biggest seller of prescription drugs -- and smaller U.S. rival Schering-Plough Corp both beat analysts' forecasts for earnings.

Swiss-based Roche Holding AG , which does not detail quarterly profit, reported broadly in-line sales but revenue was clipped by an expected fall in demand for flu drug Tamiflu.

The pharmaceutical sector has seen an increasing inflow of funds in recent weeks, reflecting the industry's relatively secure earnings and dividends at a time when other companies are bracing for a profit slump as recession looms.

"If you look at the earnings of both U.S. and European drug companies they seem pretty rock solid," said Ben Yeoh, a pharmaceuticals analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort.

"Certainly compared to other consumer-related sectors, these stocks are looking pretty good."

U.S. specialty drugmaker Forest Laboratories Inc , leading Swiss biotech firm Actelion Ltd and Biogen-Idec Inc also beat estimates for the quarter.

In the long term, drugmakers face deep-rooted problems linked to increasingly aggressive generic competition, a dearth of new products and pressure on prices.

But those structural issues are taking a backseat for now as investors warm to the industry's ability to keep sales of medicines ticking over during the slowdown.

The sector also has the ability to cut costs -- one reason for Pfizer's success in delivering earnings of $2.28 billion on barely changed revenue of $11.97 billion.

Excluding special items, Pfizer earnings per share rose 7 percent to 62 cents, against average analyst expectations of 60, according to Reuters Estimates. The shares rose 2.2 percent in early trade.


Pain drug Lyrica was a key Pfizer driver, with sales jumping 45 percent from a year ago to $675 million. But cholesterol fighter Lipitor, the world's top-selling drug, saw global sales slide 1 percent to $3.1 billion, with U.S. sales off 13 percent.

Schering-Plough's third-quarter earnings fell sharply, hurt by falling demand for its two cholesterol drugs and special charges, but the results still beat expectations.

Vytorin and Zetia prescriptions have slumped since the release of two studies questioning their effectiveness.

The U.S. drugmaker earned $551 million, or 34 cents per share, compared with $713 million in the year-earlier period.

Excluding special items, Schering-Plough earned 39 cents per share against analyst expectations of 31 cents.

Seamus Fernandez, an analyst at Leerink Swann, said both Pfizer and Schering-Plough had delivered "solid quarters" and shown the scope for continued earnings-enhancing cost control.

"With the outperformance on the individual earnings lines, I think that shows they probably have a little bit more flexibility via their costs," he said.


A weak dollar helped Pfizer and Schering-Plough in the quarter, reflecting their high level of overseas sales, though recent dollar strength suggests this benefit may soon unravel.

Roche, by contrast, suffered from a strong Swiss franc, and its quarterly sales rose just 1.6 percent to 11.3 billion Swiss francs ($9.80 billion) for a nine-month total of 33.3 billion, just shy of the 33.4 billion expected. Its stock fell 4 percent.

Pfizer and Roche both reaffirmed their financial outlook for the full year. Schering-Plough does not give guidance.

Roche also confirmed its commitment to a $43.7 billion bid for the rest of U.S. biotech group Genentech Inc , despite recent concerns that the world's largest seller of cancer drugs might struggle to secure financing for the deal.

"At this point we would not give any details or further information on how we arrange the financing and where exactly we stand in the negotiating process," Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan told reporters.

Buying Genentech would give Roche control of all revenues for big-selling cancer drugs such as Avastin and Herceptin, as well as absorbing an attractive portfolio of new medicines.

It highlights the determination of Big Pharma companies to snap up promising biotech assets to refill their product pipelines. Earlier this month, Eli Lilly and Co agreed to splash out $6.5 billion for ImClone Systems Inc .

(Additional reporting by Sam Cage in Zurich, and Ransdell Pierson and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Andrew Callus)