Belgium’s UCB has posted a strong set of financial figures for 2006, which show that revenues climbed 8%, and is pinning its hopes of future growth on its potential new blockbuster Cimzia.

Revenues reached 2.52 billion euros while profit from continuing operations climbed 35.9% to 367 million euros, which included 90 million euros in capital gains, offset by 30 million euros in one-off charges.

The main driver of growth once again was the antiepileptic Keppra (levetiracetam), which saw its dominant position in the US market reinforced through new indications and a new intravenous formulation. Sales rose 36% to 761 million euros, a performance chief executive Roch Doliveux described as “stunning” at a news conference in London, and he noted that Keppra is now the best-selling antiepileptic in Europe as well as in the USA. Also boosting the coffers was the performance of the anti-allergy franchise, Zyrtec (cetirizine) and its follow-up Xyzal (levocetirizine), which together brought in 704 million euros. Although growth was just 2%, UCB’s allergy drugs are still the market leader in 14 European countries.

Mr Doliveux was pleased with the results, especially given that the firm’s R&D spend climbed 21% to 615 million euros. Much of that has gone on Cimzia (certolizumab pegol), which was filed with the US Food and Drug Administration in February 2006 for the treatment of Crohn’s disease, though the agency asked for further information on data submitted with the filing in December. A meeting with the FDA to discuss the responses to the data request is scheduled for later this month.

The news that Abbott Laboratories’ rival drug Humira (adalimumab), has just been approved by the agency in Crohn’s has led to fears that Cimzia is falling behind other anti-tumour necrosis factor agents but Mr Doliveux said that “science prevails” and being first to market does not necessarily mean the best, citing the case of Keppra. When asked by PharmaTimes World News as to what measures UCB is taking to promote the benefits of the drug ahead of its rivals, he said that he had confidence in the specialised sales force behind the product to get over the message of its superior efficacy.

UCB has also just presented fresh data from a late-stage trial of Cimzia in rheumatoid arthritis and the chief executive said that the robustness of the data can make it a market leader for that indication. A filing in RA is expected during the second half of 2007 and Mr Doliveux said that the investment community has been delighted with the data that has been published so far. He added that Cimzia has some “unique characteristics” that no other anti-TNF medicine can claim, and its “unsurpassed efficacy” has been demonstrated.

Mr Doliveux also spoke of the firm’s successful acquisition of Germany’s Schwarz Pharma, which he said gives UCB “a global leadership position in neurology with a rich pipeline to accelerate growth and a strengthened and more diverse product portfolio.” Earlier in the week, Schwarz unveiled 2006 earnings of 12.4 million euros compared with a loss of 54.1 million euros in 2005, while sales reached 1 billion euros.