Bayer has posted a major decrease in earnings for the first quarter, but pharmaceuticals helped soften the blow of a “slump in business” at the German firm’s MaterialScience unit.

Net income fell 44.2% to 425 million euros, while group turnover was down 7.5% to 7.90 billion euros. However, sales at Bayer’s healthcare division were up 3.0% to 3.84 billion euros, while pharmaceutical revenues increased 4.8% to 2.59 billion euros.

Growth was driven by Betaferon/Betaseron (interferon beta 1b) for multiple sclerosis (301 million euros; +9.9%) and the Yasmin (ethinyl estradiol/drospirenone) contraceptive franchise which climbed 7.4% to 319 million euros. Mirena, the firm’s levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine contraceptive system, contributed 125 million euros, up 11.6%. The haemophilia agent Kogenate (recombinant antihaemophilic factor), increased 6.9% to 249 million euros, although the antibiotic Avelox (moxifloxacin) fell 9.8% to 129 million euros, due to a weak flu season in the USA.

Nexavar (sorafenib), which is approved for liver as well as advanced kidney cancer, contributed 137 million euros, up 35.6%. Sales of the hypertension treatment Adalat (nifedipine) were up 4.0% to 156 million euros, and the erectile dysfunction drug Levitra (vardenafil) edged up 1.2% to 83 million euros. The antibiotic Cipro/Ciprobay (ciprofloxacin) was down 1.2% to 81 million euros.

Mr Wenning said that “we consider our goal of limiting the decline in group EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) before special items to 5% to be increasingly demanding,” However, he claimed it could still be achieved if there is a tangible recovery in the MaterialScience business. Group sales for the full year will likely come in at approximately 32 billion euros.

VEGF Trap-Eye expanded
Meantime Bayer and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have unveiled plans to broaden the use of their experimental drug VEGF Trap-Eye. The companies will start a Phase III drug trial in the second half of the year to test the drug against central retinal vein occlusion, which leads to vision loss and affects more than 100,000 people in the USA and more than 66,000 in key European countries.

VEGF Trap-Eye is already in two Phase III studies in patients with the neovascular form of age-related macular degeneration and a Phase II study for diabetic macular edema. Bayer has forecast peak sales of 250-500 million euros for the drug.