Strong sales of the antidepressant Lexapro in the USA has helped Denmark's Lundbeck to post stronger-than-expected profits for the first quarter and a 16% increase to 2.58 billion kroner or around $470 million.

Net income more than doubled to 466 million kroner while earnings before interest and tax reached 658 million kroner, a rise of 46%, though the first quarter of 2006 was affected by declining sales of the active pharmaceutical ingredient for Lexapro (escitalopram) to US licensee Forest Laboratories, which was reducing its inventories.

Lexapro revenues were up 30% to 628 million kroner, while sales of Lundbeck's own Cipralex brand of the antidepressant advanced 18% to 990 million kroner. The Alzheimer's disease drug Ebixa (memantine) climbed 26% to 391 million kroner and two of the firm's newer products - Azilect (rasagiline) for Parkinson's disease and Serdolect (sertindole) for schizophrenia - contributed 34 million and 10 million kroner, respectively.

In terms of pipeline, Lundbeck has started Phase II trials of its new schizophrenia drug Lu 31-130 in 210 patients, noting pre-clinical data suggest that the treatment shows antipsychotic activity combined with low extrapyramidal symptoms potential. The company has also started Phase I clinical trials with drug candidate Lu AA39959 for the treatment of psychiatric disorder but not everything has run smoothly in the clinic of late. The Danish firm, along with partner Merck & Co, recently abandoned Phase III development of their insomnia drug gaboxadol, a move which sent Lundbeck’s shares into freefall.

Cipralex patent case against Teva lost in the UK

Further bad news for Lundbeck came as the firm announced that it has lost a patent lawsuit against Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries regarding Cipralex. Company spokeswoman Caroline Broege said the company has appealed the decision, but if that is not successful, Teva may start to market generic versions of Cipralex in the UK when the data protection of the drug expires in 2012.

The patent is due to expire in 2014 but data protection safeguards the rights of the clinical trials supporting the application for approval of a drug, while the patent protects the treatment itself. Lundbeck has similar court proceedings pending in Australia, Canada and Germany.