US drug major Schering-Plough was back in the black for the fourth quarter of 2005, posting a profit on strong sales after the year-ago period was dragged into the red by a $807 million charge for taxes on foreign profits returned to the US.

The group posted earnings of $104 million, or $0.07 a share, versus a loss of $856 million, or $0.58 per share, for the fourth quarter of 2004, as organic growth was driven by a respectable increase in worldwide sales which, though falling slightly short of Wall Street expectations, grew 6% to $2.32 billion.

Turnover was led by strong performances by: Peg-Intron (pegylated interferon alfa-2b plus ribavirin), for the treatment of hepatitis C, leaping 55% to $214 million following a launch in Japan; the Crohn’s disease and arthritis drug Remicade (infliximab), which jumped 19% to $251 million; the allergy drug Nasonex (mometasone furoate monohydrate), after a concentrated marketing effort helped growth of 27% to $185 million; and the brain cancer therapy Temodar (temozolomide), up 7% at $160 million on positive clinical data showing it can extend survival in patients with brain tumours.

Global sales of the anti-allergy medicine Clarinex (desloratadine) dropped 14% to $139 million, as US revenues continued to feel the pinch of declining market share, inducing a 30% decline to $76 million. On the plus side, turnover of Clarinex in other territories grew 16% to $63 million, and prescriptions of Claritin (loratadine), Clarinex’ predecessor, were up 5% at $85 million.

For the full year, Schering-Plough earned $183 million, or $0.12 per share, compared to a loss of $981 million, or $0.67 a share, for 2004, signaling that the group is well and truly on the way to recovery after being badly shaken by the loss of patent protection on its one-time blockbuster Claritin in 2002. Since then, a series of knocks have seen the company struggling to get back on track, but this latest round of results indicates that things are on the up.

Fast Track for hep C drug

In other news, Schering-Plough reported that the US Food and Drug Administration has granted its experimental oral hepatitis C protease inhibitor (SCH 503034) a speedy review for the treatment of infection with chronic hepatitis C virus.

The agent is currently in Phase II clinical development for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus infection, and its fast-track status allows Schering-Plough to submit clinical data continuously as opposed to in on block, helping to shape the framework for final approval.