King Pharmaceuticals has posted a loss for the first quarter but its stock has risen as the figures beat analyst expectations.

The firm’s net loss was $11 million, compared to net profit of $86 million a year, due principally to costs associated with its $1.6 billion acquisition of Alpharma at the end of 2008. Excluding special items, net income was $64 million.

Revenues were pretty much flat at $429 million, a healthy performance seeing as how generic competition reduced sales of the blood pressure drug Altace (ramipril) from $80 million in the first quarter last year to $10 million. Turnover for the muscle relaxant Skelaxin (metaxalone) was down 12.9% to $101 million.

Sales of the thyroid medicine Levoxyl (levothyroxine) rose 25% to $20 million, while Alpharma’s pain patch Flector (diclofenac epolamine) brought in $17 million. Revenues from the animal health business King acquired with the Alpharma purchase reached $80 million.

In terms of pipeline, King’s chief executive Brian Markison said that during the first quarter, the firm moved closer to an approval of the New Drug Application for Embeda, its long-acting morphine formulation designed to deter common forms of misuse and abuse. The company received feedback from the US Food and Drug Administration regarding a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy for the treatment and “we remain confident that Embeda will be approved in the near future”.

Mr Markison added that during the first quarter, King assumed full control from Pain Therapeutics for Remoxy, a long-acting oxycodone formulation. The company will meet with the FDA in July to discuss a complete response letter issued earlier this year and King is also waiting to hear from the agency which is close to completing its review of the NDA for Acurox, a short-acting oxycodone product developed with Acura Pharmaceuticals.

He added that “we remain excited about our extensive pipeline and the potential of our novel opioid medicines in development that are designed to reduce the risk of misuse and abuse commonly associated with existing medicines”.