US drugmaker Forest Laboratories has posted a 12% increase in fiscal fourth-quarter revenues to $990.9 million, helped by another strong performance from its flagship antidepressant Lexapro.

Net income was $172.8 million, or $0.55 per share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $237.9 million, or $0.75 per share, when the firm took a $476 million charge related to the acquisition of the antibiotics specialist Cerexa. Earnings for the latest quarter include a $110.1 million charge for a licensing payment for development rights to NXL-104, a beta-lactamase inhibitor being developed by France’s Novexel.

The revenue rise was driven by Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate), which is licensed from Denmark’s Lundbeck. It contributed $577.2 million, a 9% increase year-on-year, while sales of Namenda (memantine), Forest’s N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist for the treatment of moderate and severe Alzheimer's disease, reached $226.3 million during the quarter, up 26%. The antihypertensive Benicar (olmesartan medoxomil), which is co-promoted with Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo, brought in $58.2 million, an increase of 27%.

Chief executive Howard Solomon said the highlight of the quarter was the launch of the antihypertensive Bystolic (nebivolol). The company also presented positive Phase IIb results for linaclotide in the treatment of both chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome and full Phase III studies for the compound are anticipated to begin later this year.

The results impressed analysts who put to one side momentarily the upcoming patent expirations Forest is going to suffer on Lexapro and Namenda. Corey Davis at Natixis Bleichroeder said it was encouraging to see that the firm “can hold down costs and still generate upside to revenue”, thus demonstrating “high profitability and lots of flexibility for future investment in its pipeline''.

R&D spend to increase in fiscal 2009
Forest said that it is looking to invest heavily in R&D this year on five late-stage projects – aclidinium, which is being developed for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; ceftaroline for serious hospital infections; linaclotide; RGH-188 for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and; milnacipran for fibromyalgia. It will also pay for a “significant Phase IV post-marketing programme” in support of Bystolic, which is forecast to have fiscal 2009 sales of $60 million.

Lexapro and Namenda are expected to keep selling well, ahead of the expiry of marketing exclusivity on both drugs in the first part of the next decade. Mr Solomon said the pipeline, which now includes eight late stage-programmes and ten earlier projects, continues to expand and “we expect to add new development opportunities”.