(Updates share price, adds analyst comment)
By Michael Erman
NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co on Thursday reported higher-than-expected quarterly earnings, helped by increased sales of cancer drugs Opdivo and Yervoy and blood thinner Eliquis.
The U.S. drugmaker, which has faced increasing competition for blockbuster Opdivo as well as pressure from activist investors, also raised its full-year earnings outlook, reversing a cut it made in January.
Opdivo sales jumped 60 percent in the first quarter, while Eliquis gained 50 percent and Yervoy rose 25 percent.
Bristol-Myers shares were up 1.9 percent at $54.80 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Opdivo and Yervoy are immuno-oncology drugs, which target the body's immune system to fight cancer.
"We have a favorable view of Bristol's solid position in the immuno-oncology market," said Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans.
Sales of Opdivo exceeded expectations by 14 percent and should be "a key growth driver for the company," Evans added.
Bristol-Myers reported a profit of $1.57 billion, or 94 cents a share, for the quarter, up from $1.20 billion, or 71 cents a share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, earnings of 84 cents a share exceeded the analysts' average estimate of 74 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 12 percent to $4.93 billion, which also beat analysts' expectations of $4.74 billion.
The company had warned in January that the potential for earlier-than-expected lung cancer competition from Merck & Co Inc's Keytruda could sap Opdivo's earnings potential this year.
Merck had filed for speedy U.S. approval of Keytruda as an initial lung cancer treatment in combination with chemotherapy. That coincided with Bristol-Myers' decision not to seek accelerated approval for a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy in first-line lung cancer.
But Opdivo outperformed scaled-back sales expectations for the quarter, generating revenue of $1.13 billion, up from $704 million a year earlier.
Bristol-Myers increased its 2017 earnings forecast to a range of $2.85 to $3 a share. It previously expected $2.70 to $2.90.
In February, the company added three independent directors to its board, a move it said was supported by activist investor Jana Partners, which had built a position in the company. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn has also taken a stake in Bristol-Myers. (Reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Von Ahn)