Ireland’s Elan Corp has reiterated its faith in reaching a target of 100,000 patients for its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri by the end of 2010.

Speaking after the firm’s annual general meeting, chief executive Kelly Martin said the number of people on Tysabri (natalizumab), which is partnered with the USA’s Biogen Idec, was accelerating from 26,000 patients, as stated in the first quarter, and that the 100,000 mark is "very achievable”. He added that the firm has now broken even on Tysabri and every 10,000 additional patients after that brings in $100 million in profit for the Dublin-headquartered group.

The guidance comes just a week after Richard Silver, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, issued a report suggesting that the market may be putting too high a value on Tysabri. Mr Martin acknowledged that the US market for natalizumab, which was also recently approved for Crohn’s disease in the USA, is lagging slightly behind Europe, but the latter market has proved to be bigger than originally anticipated.

Saying that “we view MS as a major long-term strategic therapeutic programme," Mr Martin noted that another potential treatment for the disease, ELND002, is expected to move to Phase II in the next year. He also noted that no decision has been made yet regarding the future of Elan Drug Technologies, which may be spun off.

Going back to the Lehman Brothers report, it should be noted that Mr Silver was very upbeat about the prospects for the investigational compound for Alzheimer’s disease, bapineuzumab, partnered with Wyeth. He wrote that the probability of the technical and regulatory success of bapineuzumab has been raised from 40% to 50%, and potential peak sales estimates have increased from $3 billion to $4.9 billion by 2017.

Mr Martin said that adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation for 2008 would result in a loss of $50 million or less, while revenues should grow 30% to approach or slightly exceed $1 billion. Elan chairman Kyran McLaughlin said the group expects to return to the black in the latter part of 2009 before making a full-year profit in 2010.