UCB Pharma was all smiles this morning after reporting a 12% jump in revenues for the first six months of the year to 1.3 billion euros, while net profit soared 44% to 237 million euros, as sales of some non-core businesses/products added 57 million euros to the coffers.

The strong performance was also helped by earnings from its lead drug, the antiepileptic Keppra (levetiracetam), which saw its dominant position in the US market reinforced as it brought in sales of 365 million euros, up a not-insignificant 42%, and now UCB’s number one offering. Also heading the leader board was the anti-allergy medication Zyrtec (cetirizine), which reeled in 406 million euros. Although growth stalled at 6%, the product contributed significantly to UCB’s strong rise in royalty income – up 32% to 189 million euros.

UCB, which bought UK biotechnology company Celltech last year, is ploughing money into its product pipeline – with investment in R&D rising 24% over last year to 307 million euros – and has placed the focus firmly on the anti-inflammatory therapy Cimzia (certolizumab pegol; CDP870), alongside successors to Keppra. A once-daily version of the epilepsy drug is currently in Phase III trials, while the drive to launch additional formulations/indications and into new markets continues apace – with an intravenous version recently made available in Europe and a new use in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy recently given the OK in the same market. Meanwhile, a launch in China and South Korea is anticipated later this year, with a submission in Japan planned for the second half of 2007. However, trials in neuropathic pain failed to demonstrate a benefit for Keppra, and these have now been dropped.

However, other areas of R&D are more promising and the Belgian firm says it has seen encouraging Phase II data from studies of Cimzia in psoriasis, with other indications including rheumatoid arthritis in the pot. It recently filed Cimzia in the USA and Europe for Crohn’s disease and, also in the field of inflammation, has acquired specialist antuoimmune product epratuzumab from Immunomedics. The compound is currently in late-stage development for systemic lupus erythematosus and has grabbed fast-track designation from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Roch Doliveux, CEO of UCB, said the results were “solid” and pointed to the company’s heavy investment in its product portfolio, with a launch for Cimzia in Crohn's disease planned for the first half of 2007 and approval sought in the USA for follow-up allergy drug Xyzal (levocetirizine). The latter is already available in Europe, where it has gained pole position in eight marketplaces, with sales of 88 million euros for the six-month period, up 13%.

However, the seasonal impact of UCB’s anti-allergy business - along with the expected strengthening of its R&D drive as it gears up to launch Cimzia and continues to invest in late-stage trials of other important products – has led the company to forecast a flat full year with net profit in the region of 270 million euros.