By Deena Beasley and Carl O'Donnell
(Reuters) - Amgen Inc <AMGN.O> on Thursday reported better-than-expected first-quarter results and said it plans to study psoriasis drug Otezla as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
It also maintained its earnings forecast for the year, citing continued growth in sales of new drugs despite the ongoing pandemic.
Oral drugs like Otezla have benefited from coronavirus fears that have kept patients away from rival medicines that must by administered in doctors' offices or hospitals.
"Although the first few weeks of April have clearly shown some signs of disruption, the combination of our results from the first quarter and our expectation of an improving outlook for global healthcare activity give us confidence" in Amgen's existing 2020 forecasts, Chief Executive Bob Bradway said on a conference call.
The company expects 2020 adjusted earnings of $14.85 to $15.60 per share on revenue of $25 billion to $25.6 billion.
Otezla, which Amgen acquired last year from Celgene Corp as part of Celgene's buyout by Bristol Myers Squibb Co <BMY.N>, helps reduce overactive inflammation. Other similar medicines are also being tested to see if they can help COVID-19 patients.
Amgen expects to begin clinical trials of the drug for COVID-19 in the coming weeks, said research chief David Reese.
Amgen also said it is working with partner Adaptive Biotechnologies Corp <ADPT.O> to identify antibodies targeting the novel coronavirus that may be developed into a drug to potentially prevent or treat COVID-19.
Amgen's expertise in manufacturing biologic drugs at scale would enable it to supply large numbers of patients with any antibodies it develops, Reese said.
Amgen said strong first-quarter sales of Otezla, along with higher volume sales of drugs like cholesterol treatment Repatha, contributed to an 11% increase in revenue for the period.
The company last year launched a lower-priced Repatha option aimed at reducing out-of-pocket costs for Medicare patients.
Several other newer medicines also had double-digit percentage sales increases in the period.
"We are encouraged with the progress and minimal disruption from COVID-19 across the business," Credit Suisse analyst Evan Seigerman said in a research note.
The biotechnology company reported an adjusted profit of $4.17 per share, up 17% from a year earlier and well above analysts' average expectations of $3.76, according to Refinitiv IBES.
Revenue of $6.16 billion in the quarter topped Wall Street estimates of just under $6 billion.
Net profit fell 3% to $3.07 per share due to higher operating costs that were partially offset by fewer shares outstanding.
Amgen shares were off nearly 1% in after hours trading.
(Reporting By Deena Beasley in Los Angeles and Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)