January 25, 2018 / 12:18 PM / in a year

UPDATE 3-Biogen forecasts robust 2018 as Spinraza sales surge

* Spinraza sales beat estimates

* Sees 2018 adj EPS of $24.20-$25.20 vs $24.16 estimate

* Sees 2018 revenue of $12.7 bln-$13 bln vs $12.7 bln (Adds background on Spinraza and deals)

By Michael Erman and Tamara Mathias

Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Biogen Inc on Thursday posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue and set upbeat expectations for the year on strong sales from its expensive rare-disease treatment Spinraza.

Chief Executive Michel Vounatsos said the company was looking at large and small takeover opportunities to bolster its pipeline and revenue growth.

Spinraza became the first FDA approved treatment for the rare, often fatal disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in December 2016.

The drug powered a 15.3 percent surge in Biogen's fourth quarter revenue, bringing in $363 million. That beat analyst estimates of $319 million, according to brokerage Cowen & Co., and well outpaced expectations from the beginning of 2017. Growth was strongest for the drug outside the United States.

Shares of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company rose 2.3 percent to $354.32 in late morning trading.

The list price for Spinraza is a whopping $750,000 for the first year of therapy, dropping to about $375,000 a year after that. It is a potential blockbuster for Biogen, but does face possible competition as smaller gene therapy company Avexis Inc is developing an SMA treatment.

QUARTERLY LOSS

Biogen recorded a fourth-quarter loss compared with a year-ago profit, as it recorded a $1.57 billion charge due to the U.S. tax code overhaul.

Despite increasing competition for its key multiple sclerosis drugs, Biogen forecast 2018 adjusted earnings per share between $24.20 and $25.20, above consensus estimates of $24.16, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue for 2018 is expected to be in the range of $12.7 billion to $13 billion. Analysts on average expect $12.7 billion.

Executives on the company's conference call noted that through cash and leverage, Biogen has access to up to $37 billion for deals and other capital expenditure.

That "gives us a lot of capacity to add to the business and I think our focus is on that -- on growing the business, continuing to be active in early stage, but also hopefully being active in mid- to late-stage assets to bring in things that are closer to revenue," Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Capello said.

Its net loss was $297.4 million, or $1.40 per share, on revenue of $3.31 billion in the quarter. That compares with a profit of $649.2 million, or $2.99 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, it earned $5.26 per share. On average, analysts were expecting $5.45 per share on revenue of $3.08 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reporting by Michael Erman in New York and Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Bernadette Baum)

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