Elan Corp of Ireland has announced a major rise in its losses for the first quarter and while revenues grew strongly, the take-up of its multiple sclerosis treatment Tysabri is proving to be less than spectacular.

Net loss was $93 million, or $0.20 per share, up from $33.3 million and $0.08 per share for the corresponding period last year, though Elan noted that the latter included a gain of $44.2 million related to the sale of the European rights to Eisai for the severe pain treatment Prialt (ziconotide), while in the first quarter of 2007, it took a $18.8 million charge on the early retirement of debt.

Revenues rose 31% to $176 million, boosted by sales of the company’s Maxipime (cefepime) antibiotic which climbed 16% to $51.9 million. However, its basic patent expired in the USA at the end of March and Apotex Corp has said it will market its generic version of the drug as soon as it receives approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, a move which will hurt Maxipime revenues severely.

Azactam (aztreonam), another antibiotic, rose 7% to $21.3 million, and its sales are expected to be negatively impacted by generic competition in 2007, although no copycat version has been approved yet, while Prialt fell 26.9% to $1.9 million, due to reduced wholesaler inventories.

Elan’s main growth drivers were its manufacturing revenue and royalties, which increased 13% to $59.4 million, but most interest was on the performance of Tysabri (natalizumab), partnered with Biogen Idec, which had sales of $48.4 million. The drug only returned to the market last July after being pulled off on safety concerns in February 2005, and its reintroduction came with restrictions to monitor patients for symptoms of the rare brain disease PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy).

Some 12,500 people have been prescribed with the drug, a figure which disappointed some analysts, but Elan remains confident that Tysabri will continue to penetrate the MS market in both in the USA and Europe. An application was filed with the FDA in December seeking approval to market Tysabri as a treatment for Crohn's disease.

Chief financial Officer Shane Cooke said the firm remains optimistic that it will record adjusted losses before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of less than $50 million for 2007. In terms of pipeline, there was little new, though the firm said that interim Phase II data for AAB-001 (bapineuzumab), a humanised monoclonal antibody for Alzheimer's being developed with Wyeth, is expected in the first half of 2007.