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Lilly profit plunges as cheaper generics take toll

Eli Lilly said Thursday its quarterly earnings plunged 58 percent, hurt by special charges and generic competition for its Cymbalta depression drug, but it affirmed its earlier full-year profit forecast.

Its shares moved higher in premarket trading following the announcement. (Get the latest quote here.)

CEO John Lechleiter told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that excluding the impact from expired patents, the company saw high single-digit sales growth.

"Even though our sales were down 16 percent this quarter, if you take out the two big patent losses we had in the last year, our underlying sales growth was 7 percent and most of that was from volume," Lechleiter said.

The company remains bullish on its U.S. business and saw a 21 percent sales growth in China, according to Lechleiter. However, a slowdown in Europe raises some red flags in regards to government reimbursement of medications on the continent, he said.

Sales performance in Japan was somewhat muted by a weakening of the yen. Lechleiter said the stronger dollar against most of the major currencies has also depressed sales outside the United States.

"We feel the current economic circumstances are not going to affect our business in a negative way to any great extent," he said.

The U.S. drugmaker said it had earned $501 million, or 47 cents per share, in the third quarter. That compared with $1.2 billion, or $1.11 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding special items, Lilly earned 66 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 67 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

Sales fell 16 percent to $4.88 billion, but topped Wall Street's expectations of $4.83 billion.

Reuters contributed to this report.