Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries has posted a strong set of first-quarter results which show that net income rose 20% to $342 million, or $0.42 per share (+14%), excluding a $1.3 billion tax charge related to its acquisition of Ivax Corp and driven by “record-breaking” sales of its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone.

Group turnover was up 24% to $2.08 billion, with Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) bringing in $401 million, an increase of 22%, thanks to 18% growth in US sales, while the firm's recently-launched Parkinson's disease drug Azilect (rasagiline) brought in $25 million, compared with $19 million in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Global respiratory revenues reached $193 million, more than double the figure in the corresponding quarter last year, due almost entirely to sales of firm's branded asthma inhaler ProAir (albuterol). Growth was also driven by the contribution of its Ivax Corp subsidiary and Teva’s generic version of GlaxoSmithKline/Biovail's antidepressant Wellbutrin XL.

While its branded drugs are performing very well, generics are still very much the lifeblood of the Jerusalem-headquartered firm. As of April 23, Teva had 151 product applications awaiting final US Food and Drug Administration approval and believes it will be the first to file on 42 of these, relating to products whose annual US branded sales are over $35 billion.

Shlomo Yanai, the company's chief executive, said that “strong demand for our generics products across all our geographies”, along with the performance of Copaxone “and the continued rapid growth of our respiratory franchise, drove our results in the first quarter even higher than we had anticipated." Teva raised its full-year earnings guidance to $2.20 -$2.30 a share, excluding items, from a previous forecast of $2.07-$2.19 and declined to confirm whether it has made a bid for Merck KgaA's generics unit.

Promising data on new MS drug laquinimod

Apart from posting a good set of results, Teva and Swedish partner Active Biotech AB have presented data at the American Academy of Neurology in Boston on their once-a-day new MS drug laquinimod.

In a 36-week, 306-patient randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase IIb study, Teva compared two dosage strengths of the drug, 0.6mg and 0.3mg versus placebo, and while the lower dose showed no statistically significant difference versus placebo, the higher dose reduced MS activity when measured by magnetic resonance imaging, and showed a 38% reduction in the cumulative number of tell-tale lesions in the brain.

Mr Yanai noted that Teva will soon initiate Phase III studies to confirm oral laquinimod’s therapeutic benefits, “and we expect to begin enrollment of the trial later this year.”