Elan Corp has posted a profit for the first quarter, as sales of its multiple sclerosis blockbuster Tysabri continue to grow.

The Irish drugmaker’s net income came in at $68.2 million, compared with a loss of $6.8 million a year ago, helped by a $78.0 million legal settlement gain in relation to litigation with Abraxis Biosciences over cancer drug Abraxene, an albumin-bound formulation of paclitaxel. Revenues for the quarter edged up 0.8% to $313.0 million.

Global turnover of Tysabri (natalizumab) climbed 20% to $349.4 million, while Elan’s share of sales from the drug, which is marketed with Biogen Idec,reached $245.2 million, up 23%. At the end of March, some 58,400 patients were on therapy worldwide and earlier this week, Elan and Biogen noted that Europe’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use has recommended updating the label on Tysabri to include anti-JC virus antibody status as an additional risk factor for the MS drug.

The partners said that this move will provide "an opportunity to identify patients at lower or higher risk for the development" of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, the rare but potentially fatal brain disease linked to the drug. The CHMP also adopted a positive opinion for the five-year renewal of the mrketing auhorisation for Tysabri.

The Tysabri performance was vital given that Elan has lost revenues from the antibiotics Azactam (aztreonam) and Maxipime (cefepime), while the severe pain treatment Prialt (ziconotide) was divested to Azur Pharma. As for the Elan Drug Technologies business, revenues were down 14% to $65.9 million, with no more royalties coming in from King Pharmaceuticals’ off-patent muscle relaxant Skelaxin (metaxalone). There was cash from Abbott Laboratories’ cholesterol drug TriCor (fenofibrate; $11.3 million) and Acorda Therapeutics' multiple sclerosis drug Ampyra (fampridine prolonged-release) tablets contributed $16.6 million.

Chief executive Kelly Martin said the results “provide further evidence as to our consistency in generating progress across all aspects of the business”. He noted that revenue growth from Tysabri “combined with disciplined expense management has created meaningful operating leverage”.

Mr Martin concluded by saying that “we will continue to intelligently invest in both science and clinical activities that may differentiate Elan globally as it relates to innovation and focus on neuroscience.” 

The results went down reasonably well with analysts and Colm Foley at Dublin stockbroker Goodbody said the results were ahead of expectations, helped by better overhead cost control. He added that Tysabri growth reflects “increased patient demand across global markets and higher pricing in the USA”.