* Q1 net profit 97.9 mln Sfr vs 76.4 mln forecast
* Tracleer sales up 4 pct to 375 mln Sfr
* Says may bring forward profit growth into 2013
* Shares rise 3.2 pct
By Caroline Copley
ZURICH, April 16 Actelion, Europe's
largest biotech company, said it may return to profit growth
sooner than expected after its first-quarter earnings more than
doubled and sales of its mainstay drug beat expectations.
The Swiss company received a boost last year after heart and
lung drug Opsumit, its replacement for top-seller Tracleer, beat
expectations in a clinical trial.
It is looking ahead to October when U.S. regulators are set
to decide whether to approve the drug, enabling Actelion to cut
its dependence on Tracleer, which makes up almost 90 percent of
sales and has faced competition from Gilead's Letairis.
The company, which hiked its dividend by a quarter in
February, signalled it might return to profit growth this year.
"It is possible that some of the forecasted profit growth
for 2014 could be brought forward into this year," Chief
Financial Officer Andrew Oakley said on Tuesday.
Actelion has forecast stable core earnings in 2013 in local
currencies, followed by a return to growth in 2014 and double
digit percentage growth in 2015.
Shares in Actelion, which have risen over 60 percent in the
past year, were up 3.2 percent at 54.00 francs by 0733 GMT,
within a European healthcare index down 0.3 percent.
The stock trades at 14.9 times estimated earnings over the
next twelve months, in line with its peers.
Net profit more than doubled in the first quarter to 97.9
million Swiss francs ($105.3 million), after last year's profit
was dragged down by one-off factors.
Analysts in a Reuters poll had expected a profit of 76.4
million francs on average.
Sales of Tracleer, a pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)
drug, rose 4 percent in local currencies to 375 million Swiss
francs driven by price increases in the United States.
Actelion spokesman Roland Haefeli said there had been good
to high demand for the drug but that it was still experiencing
pressure on prices in Europe.
Actelion, which has pledged to cut costs as it seeks to
maximise profitability while it develops new treatments to
replace Tracleer, cut operating expenses 12 percent in the
quarter to 309 million francs.
"Given the company's success at cutting costs, we see
potential for significant upgrades to medium-term consensus
estimates," said Berenberg analyst Adrian Howd.
However, the company expects costs to increase later in the
year due to the expected market launch of Opsumit and as it
starts late-stage trials for two other drugs.
Actelion said a late-stage study for selexipag, another drug
to treat PAH, was close to full enrollment and it expected to
present an interim analysis in coming weeks.
It is also developing a drug to treat skin disease psoriasis
as well as an antibiotic for patients suffering from Clostridium
difficile associated diarrhea. It is preparing to start
late-stage trials for both drugs later this year.
Actelion said it was on track to complete its 800 million
Swiss franc share buy-back programme this year.