A worsening exchange rate and increased R&D costs saw Boehringer Ingelheim post a decline in earnings for 2008, but the privately-held German firm is confident that its long-term prospects are good.

Operating income came in at 1.98 billion euros, down 6% while net profit decreased 21% to 1.43 billion euros, due in part to an 11% increase in the company’s R&D spend to 2.11 billion euros. Turnover rose 6% to 11.60 billion euros.

Prescription drug sales were up 5.2% to 9.11 billion euros, driven by Spiriva (tiotropium bromide) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which brought in 2.1 billion euros, up 16% (currency-adjusted). The blood pressure drug Micardis (telmisartan) saw sales of 1.2 billion euros, up 17%, while Flomax/Alna (tamsulosin) for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia, rose 12% to 1.1 billion euros.

Sales of Sifrol/Mirapex (pramipexole) for Parkinson's disease and the treatment of restless legs syndrome enjoyed currency-adjusted growth of 21% to 752 million euros. The clotbuster Aggrenox (extended release dipyridamole/aspirin) was up 19% to 313 million euros.

As for Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate), the oral direct thrombin inhibitor for the prevention of venous thromboembolic disorders following hip or knee replacement surgery in adults recently launched in Europe, Boehringer limited itself to saying that sales “fulfilled our expectations”. A potential blockbuster, the compound is being studied in the additional indications of prevention of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation and treatment of acute thrombosis and these studies “are running successfully”.

The company noted that similar good progress is being made with flibanserin for hypoactive female sexual desire disorder, plus oncology and diabetes compounds. "We want to also fill the manageable gaps that will be created by the anticipated patent expiries of products in 2010 and secure the company's long-term growth," chief executive Andreas Barner said.

Dr Barner added that the firm’s R&D quota is 22% of net sales in prescription medicines. These “disproportionately large increases are a good sign at Boehringer – our pipeline is well-filled, in particular with substances in late-stage clinical development".

Boehringer noted that “following the development of a worldwide economic crisis, a safe forecast for …2009 and beyond is difficult”. In the medium term, “significant changes and increased volatility…cannot be ruled out”, but the board says it will concentrate on “actively counteracting them”. Dr Barner concluded by speaking of the “solidity of this family-owned company” and his commitment “to securing, long-term, this independence”.