Bayer says that it has got off to “an excellent start in 2008”, and has posted higher-than-expected earnings for the first quarter.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation and before special items rose 9.8% to 2.19 billion euros, while sales edged up 2.4% to 8.54 billion euros. Growth was again driven by the German firm’s healthcare division, which climbed 3.4% to 3.73 billion euros.

Of that, pharmaceutical sales grew 4.8% to 2.61 billion euros, driven by Schering’s Betaferon/Betaseron (interferon beta 1b) for multiple sclerosis (274 million euros; +12.3%) and the Yasmin (ethinyl estradiol/drospirenone) contraceptive franchise which climbed 23.8% to 297 million euros. The haemophilia agent Kogenate (recombinant antihaemophilic factor), climbed 15.9% to 233 million euros, while the antibiotic Avelox (moxifloxacin) had sales of 143 million euros, up 11.7%.

Nexavar (sorafenib), which is now approved for liver as well as advanced kidney cancer, contributed 101 million euros, up 114.9%. Sales of the hypertension treatment Adalat (nifedipine) were up 3.4% to 150 million euros, though the erectile dysfunction drug Levitra (vardenafil) slipped 2.4% to 82 million euros, The antibiotic Cipro/Ciprobay (ciprofloxacin) fell 25% to 82 million euros as a result of generic competition.

Bayer chairman Werner Wenning said “our first-quarter performance was ahead of our expectations" and the figures “strengthen our confidence for the year as a whole". However one blot on the landscape could be the future prospects for Yasmin.

Last month, a US court invalidated the patent on the contraceptive, a decision Bayer is appealing, and the Leverkusen-based firm has also filed a lawsuit to block Watson Pharmaceuticals and Novartis’ Sandoz division from selling a generic version of the drug.