* Actelion Q1 profit more than doubles to 102.1 mln Sfr
* Forecast was 91 mln Sfr
* Confirms outlook for 2009
* Shares rise 7 percent (Adds CFO comment, peers’ results, updated shares)
By Katie Reid and Paul Arnold
ZURICH, April 21 (Reuters) - Actelion Ltd ATLN.VX, Europe’s largest biotech company, beat forecasts by more than doubling first-quarter profit, thanks to demand for its top-selling blood pressure drug Tracleer.
Swiss-based Actelion also confirmed its full-year outlook on Tuesday and its shares rose more than 7 percent to 51.60 francs, outperforming a near-flat DJ Stoxx European pharmaceuticals index .SXDP and helping to reverse the 19 percent its shares have lost in value so far this year.
The company said it aims to grow sales by 12-15 percent in local currencies in 2009 and cash earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by 10-12 percent.
“Earnings were very strong on the back of good cost control,” said Vontobel analyst Andrew Weiss. “Guidance remains unchanged. However, we continue to believe that guidance is conservative.”
Chief Financial Officer Andrew Oakley told analysts on a conference call the group’s full-year results were likely to be at the high end of its guidance.
Analysts have long flagged Actelion’s dependence on Tracleer — an expensive drug for treating a heart and lung disorder — as a potential weakness, but competitors are finding it tough to break into the market and the group is trying to diversify its use and develop new drugs. [ID:nL974170]
Net profit rose to 102.1 million Swiss francs ($87.4 million), beating the average estimate of 91 million Swiss francs in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts.
Group sales rose 26 percent to 405.6 million Swiss francs, the company said. Revenue for Tracleer, which rakes in more than $1 billion a year, rose 24 percent in local currencies to 352.2 million Swiss francs.
Actelion Chief Executive Jean-Paul Clozel told Reuters that 2009 had started better than the group had expected and the focus was now on results of three late-stage trials that are due in the second half of this year.
Tracleer, which is already available in over 50 countries and will be introduced to more markets in the coming months, is in a Phase III study for the treatment of the fatal lung disease pulmonary fibrosis, a use that could double its sales.
Some analysts have taken a cautious stance on Actelion ahead of the Phase III results, but the group’s promising portfolio of new drugs and the growth potential of Tracleer have supported shares and it was the only gainer in the Swiss blue chip index last year.
The group is developing sleep drug almorexant in partnership with with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), and it expects the results of a late stage trial by the end of 2009.
Earlier on Tuesday, Germany’s second-biggest drugs group, Boehringer Ingelheim, forecast sales of its prescription drugs would grow at a single-digit percentage rate in 2009, faster than the global market for the 10th year in a row. [ID:nLL126307]
But Merck & Co (MRK.N), which plans to buy rival drugmaker Schering-Plough Corp SGP.N later this year, reported lower-than-expected sales and earnings that it attributed to the global economic slowdown, pushing its shares lower. [ID:nN21449400]
Actelion trades at around 13 times forecast 2010 earnings, a discount to Belgian biotech UCB SA(UCB.BR), but a premium to larger Swiss drugmakers Novartis AG NOVN.VX and Roche Holding AG ROG.VX. (Additional reporting by Sven Egenter; Editing by Rupert Winchester and Guy Dresser) ($1=1.168 Swiss Franc)