Japan’s Astellas Pharma has posted a 35.2% rise in net earnings for the fiscal year ended March 31, with growth being driven once again by Prograf.

Net income came in at 177.44 billion yen ($1.70 billion), while operating profit soared 44.8% to 275.90 billion yen, helped by a 19.9% decline in the firm’s R&D spend to 134.4 billion yen. Sales rose 5.6% to 972.59 billion yen.

The increases were principally due to the immunosuppressant Prograf (tacrolimus), which was up 15.8% to 203.0 billion yen, while Vesicare (solifenacin) for overactive bladder leapt 65.8% to 60.1 billion yen. Harnal (tamsulosin) for benign prostatic hyperplasia, sold as Omnic in Europe and Flomax in the USA, slipped 3.6% to 122.4 billion yen, but the antifungal agent Funguard/Mycamine (micafungin) had sales of 17.8 billion yen, an increase of 8.0%.

Astellas also reported that sales of the cholesterol blockbuster Lipitor (atorvastatin), which it markets in Japan in collaboration with the product's originator Pfizer, were up 3.2% to 97.7 billion yen.

For the current fiscal year, the company has forecast net income of 159.0 billion yen, down 10.4%, operating profit of 232.0 billion yen (-15.9%) and revenue of 962.0 billion yen, which would represent a decline of around 1.1%. The reason given for the likely earnings declines is that R&D will increase 19.7% to 161.0 billion yen. There will also be charges relating to Astellas’ $387 million acquisition of the USA’s Agenesys and an 8 billion yen payment to California’s CoMentis as part of the firms’ recently-announced pact to develop Alzheimer's drugs.

A more pressing problem for Astellas lies in the fact that Prograf has just lost patent protection in the USA and its price has been cut in Japan. Prograf sales are expected to dip but not by a huge amount as doctors specialising in organ rejection are expected to switch to any generic transplant drug.

However Astellas’ bid to sell its once-daily version of Prograf in the USA recently floundered again with the US Food and Drug Administration issuing a second approvable letter for the drug which is sold in the UK and Germany as Advagraf.