Altana posted a strong set of year-to-date figures this morning, with sales up 23% to 2.9 billion euros ($3.7bn) helped by the acquisition of chemical group Eckart, and operating profit up 22% to 750 million euros.

The performance of the pharmaceutical business is likely to raise smiles at future merger partner Nycomed, with sales up 11% to 1.93 billion euros in the first nine months of 2006 and pretax profits up 21% to 565 million euros.

Sales of leading drug Protonix/Pantozol (pantoprazole) contributed 1.15 billion euros to Altana’s coffers, up 15%, and now accounts for 60% of total revenues, up from less than half in the first quarter of this year.

Altana is in the midst of a restructuring exercise that will see it become a chemical pure-play and hive off its pharmaceuticals business via the Nycomed merger, which in turn is aimed at reducing its reliance on pantoprazole, due to lose patent protection in 2009.

“The sustained positive business performance over the last years creates a very good starting point regarding the planned transaction to Nycomed,” commented Altana Pharma chief executive Hans-Joachim Lohrisch.

Inhaled steroid Alvesco (ciclesonide) for asthma brought in 12 million euros from the 23 markets in which it has been launched. This product has failed to live up to its early promise as a steroid that minimises systemic exposure to active drug, but Altana has high hopes for an intranasal formulation, Omnaris, that was approved for allergic rhinitis in the USA last month.

Altana maintains that the entire ciclesonide franchise has the potential to be a billion-euro business at peak, with additional momentum to come from a fixed-dose combination of ciclesonide and formoterol for asthma, currently being developed alongside Sanofi-Aventis.

For 2006 as a whole, Altana is expecting sales growth of 10% for its pharma division, with pretax profits up 5%-8%, despite the impact of government-mandated price reductions in Germany.