Germany pharmaceuticals and chemicals company Altana put in a strong performance in the third quarter with a 6% rise in sales and double-digit gains in operating profit driven by its pharma business.

But despite the figures, shares in the company - which have been rising on speculation that Altana Pharma could be sold off to Novartis [[19/10/05a]] - fell back nearly 2% in early trading today as the prospects of a sale diminished.

In its results statement, Altana said it was looking for strategic partner for the pharma business, and had also set aside 1 billion euros to boost the division via acquisitions and in-licensed products. And chief executive Nikolaus Schweickart insisted that there would be no ‘split or segmentation’ of the company, or an auction of the pharma business.

Rumours of a sale have persisted since Altana split its pharma and chemical operations into two separately listed business units in August, after the company acquired chemicals concern Eckart, and despite repeated assurances by management that pharma was not for sale.

Altana said sales in the first nine months of 2005 rose 2.36 billion euros, up from 2.23 billion a year ago, while operating profit climbed 12% to 522 million euros. Leading the charge was once again Pantozol/Protonix (pantoprazole), Altana’s gastrointestinal drug, which climbed 10% to 1 billion euros in the first three quarters. Worldwide sales of the drug, including those by licensee Wyeth, came in at 2.03 billion, said Altana.

Altana’s new asthma drug Alvesco (ciclesonide) racked up 5 million euros in sales in the 11 countries it has been launched, and Altana said it expects full-year revenues from the product to reach 8-10 million euros.

Chemical sales continued to feel the effects of the worldwide problems affecting the sector – especially weakening demand and high transport and raw material prices – dropping 5% to 624 million euros.

Altana said it expects group sales to climb 9% this year, with pharma performing at the top end of expectations with a 10% hike, and earnings growth in the high single digits.