* Q1 net profit 128 mln Sfr vs 98.5 mln forecast
* Opsumit sales of 15 mln in first quarter
* Expect selexipag results in the next few weeks
* Maintains 2014 and 2015 guidance for now
* Says will be in a position to review guidance by mid-year
* Shares indicated up 3.5 pct
(Adds comments by CEO, analyst)
By Caroline Copley
ZURICH, April 17 Actelion Ltd's launch
of it new lung drug has got off to a good start and as a result
the Swiss firm might raise its earnings forecast at mid-year, it
said on Thursday after reporting a better than expected
Europe's biggest biotech drugs company is banking on a
strong ramp-up in sales of the new drug, Opsumit, a treatment
for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), to boost core
earnings in the low single-digit percentage range this year.
But the company said it would review this earnings forecast
by mid-year following a "good start" to the year.
"We really think that we should guide up, but how much up
that's a question and that's what we will be in a position to do
in the next quarter," Chief Executive Jean-Paul Clozel told
The Swiss company notched up 15 million Swiss francs ($17
million) in sales for Opsumit in the first quarter, but stressed
this figure does not reflect underlying demand for the drug
since the company offers a portion of the medicine for free in
the United States under a patient access programme.
Jefferies analyst Peter Welford described the more than
2,300 patients already on the drug, mostly in the United States,
as "impressive" and suggested annual sales in excess of 165
million Swiss francs ($187 million).
"It's a very very significant success, you can imagine that
2,300 patients a few months after the launch was something I was
not expecting," Clozel said.
Shares in Actelion, which trade at 17.7 times forecast
earnings compared with a peer medium of 14.5 times, were
indicated up 3.5 percent in premarket trade.
BETTER THAN TRACLEER?
The company expects Opsumit's peak sales to eclipse those of
its current flagship product Tracleer, which also treats PAH but
goes off patent from 2015 and has faced growing competition from
Gilead's Letairis. Jefferies' Welford forecasts peak
sales for Opsumit of $2.2 billion.
Sales of Tracleer, rose 2 percent in the quarter to 383
million francs, due to strong demand in countries where Opsumit
is not yet on the market.
In countries where Opsumit has launched, such as the United
States, weekly new Tracleer prescriptions are down by two thirds
or more, Actelion's spokesman Roland Haefeli said. The drug is
also available in Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark
Actelion reported an 8 percent rise in first-quarter product
sales to 469 million francs, generating a net profit of 128
million francs, up 30 percent on the year.
Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast product sales of 435
million and net profit of 98.5 million.
Investors are now turning their attention to Phase III trial
results for selexipag, another PAH drug, and Actelion said it
would present top-line results "in the next few weeks."
The company is also conducting a late-stage trial for
Cadazolid, an anti-biotic for patients suffering from diarrhoea
associated with clostridium difficile which was granted
fast-track status by U.S. health regulators in February.
For now Actelion maintained its forecast for a low
single-digit percentage increase in core earnings at constant
currencies this year. It also expects single-digit core earnings
growth in 2015.
($1=0.8816 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Greg Mahlich)