Schering yesterday reiterated its forecast of sales growth in the mid single digits for 2005, with the business driven by double-digit gains in the USA and the oral contraceptive Yasmin (ethinyl estradiol/drospirenone).

At Schering’s annual general meeting yesterday, chairman Hubertus Erlen said the company was also on track to grow its operating profit at a faster rate than sales and improve its margins from 15.5% to more than 16% in 2005 and meet its target in 2006 of 18%.

Yasmin’s 56% growth in sales last year to reach 429 million euros made it the most used oral contraceptive in the world with a 26% market share, said Dr Erlen, and the drug will continue to make strong gains this year, helped by expected approval of a new low-dose version, called Yaz, in the US before year-end. The long-term contraceptive Mirena (levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system) will also boost the gynaecology business and build on its 20% gain in 2004 sales, he said.

The 12-year-old multiple sclerosis drug Betaferon (interferon beta-1b) - still Schering’s top-selling product with 2004 sales up 5% to 780 million euros – would be helped by the publication of a long-term safety study.

This observational study, which saw its first data presented yesterday at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Miami, should consolidate Betaferon’s position as a tried and tested treatment option in the face of fierce competition in the MS sector from Serono’s Rebif (interferon beta-1a), Avonex (interferon beta-1a) from Biogen Idec and Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) from Teva.

Publication of the new data on Betaferon is timely, given recent safety concerns among MS treatments. Last month, Biogen Idec warned of a link between Avonex and severe liver damage [[17/03/05b]], while the company was also forced to withdraw its new Tysabri (natalizumab) drug for MS after it was linked to a rare and potentially fatal immune system disease [[01/03/05a]]. Meanwhile, in March GlaxoSmithKline was forced to halt clinical trials of a drug in the same class as Tysabri [[17/03/05a]].

Turning to Schering’s oncology pipeline, Dr Erlen highlighted PTK/ZK, a drug for colon cancer partnered with Novartis, which should be filed at the beginning of 2007. Schering and its partner have also started a clinical trial seeking to extend its indications into lung cancer.