ICON, the international contract research organisation (CRO) based in Ireland, continues to deliver in a recessive climate, announcing net revenues and operating income up by 9% and 25% respectively in the first quarter of 2009.

Net revenues for the quarter were US$219.8 million, a 9.2% increase over the same period of 2008. Income from operations came to US$26.9 million, 25.1% higher and pushing the operating margin up to 12.2% from 10.7% in the first quarter of 2008.

While business activity was slow to develop early in the quarter, ICON managed net new business wins of US$265 million for the full three months, generating a book-to-bill ratio of 1.2.

Qualia acquisition

The CRO also said it had acquired the assets of the former Qualia Clinical Services for an unknown sum. The deal gives ICON a 33,000 square-foot Phase I facility with capacity for up to 100 beds in Omaha, US.

Qualia Clinical Services closed up shop in February and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. According to local reports, it planned to sell the bulk of its assets for US$110,000.

The Omaha, Nebraska facility will be integrated with ICON’s existing Phase I units by Dr Gary Curtis, who has joined the company from MDS Pharma Services as senior vice president, global clinical pharmacology. Key operational staff from Qualia Clinical Services have been rehired by ICON, the CRO noted.

“This latest acquisition supports our strategy of expanding our Phase I capabilities in the US and brings our total bed capacity there to approximately 225 beds,” commented Dr Thomas Frey, president of ICON Development Solutions.

The investment is likely to be “moderately dilutive” to ICON’s earnings in 2009, the CRO said. Otherwise, it expects to achieve the financial guidance given in January (net revenues of US$862-US$865 million, diluted earnings per share of S$1.27-US$1.29), “albeit at the lower end”.