The world’s third largest biotechnology company, Switzerland’s Serono, says that fourth quarter net income fell by almost 20% to just under $90 million dollars, compared to $112 million in the corresponding quarter of 2003, as growth was held back by a significant increase in research and development spending.

The hike in R&D spending – from $468 million to $594 million – which came as a result of progressing late-stage compounds through clinical trials and the signing of three new collaborations [[17/12/04g]], offset a 33% increase in sales of the firm’s flagship multiple sclerosis offering, Rebif (interferon beta-1a) to $310 million.

For the full-year, however, the picture was much brighter, with income rising 27% to $494 million on the back of a 22% hike in revenues to $2.5 billion [[03/02/04d]]. Rebif brought in sales of almost $1.1 billion during the year – up 33% – including a 57% hike in US sales to $296 million, where it is making gains on Biogen Idec’s competing drug, Avonex (interferon beta-1a). Rebif was only launched in the US in 2002 after head-to-head trials showed it to be more effective than Avonex – the then-orphan drug, which had been entitled to a period of marketing exclusivity [[08/03/02a]].

For 2005, Serono is forecasting product sales growth in between 10% to 15% range, with total revenues of at least $2.6 billion, and net income between $520 million and $540 million.