Solvay has posted a 44% slide in operating profit for the first half to 306 million euros, though that it is better than most analysts expected, as pharmaceuticals softened the blow of the difficult times being endured by the Belgian firm’s chemicals and plastics divisions.

Group sales were down 14% to 4.05 billion euros, though pharmaceutical revenues were up 4% to 1.29 billion euros. Solvay’s fenofibrate drugs such as TriCor (sold by Abbott Laboratories) and TriLipix brought in 214 million euros, a fall of 4%.

Creon, a pancreatic enzyme replacement product, had sales of 123 million euros (+19%), while the firm’s Androgel testosterone replacement therapy leapt 44% to 214 million euros. Revenues from the synthetic cannabinoid Marinol (dronabinol), for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and appetite loss in AIDS patients, fell 38% as a result of generic competition.

On the research front, Solvay and partner Lundbeck are stopping development of bifeprunox for schizophrenia. Interim results of Phase III studies on the compound in Europe have indicated that approval from the European Medicines Agency would be “unlikely”, and consequently, development activities in the USA, which were on hold, have also been stopped. Solvay added that it has terminated two research projects in the area of pancreatic enzymes: SLV340 (pre-clinical) and SLV339 (Phase II).

Solvay said it was confident it would meet the objectives set for the pharma division under the INSPIRE project, and that it is on track for cost savings of 300 million euros by 2010. However it is rumoured that the company is thinking of divesting its pharmaceuticals business, but gave no further update on a strategic review it is carrying out.