At a time when a number of drugmakers are cutting back on their research activities, the chief executive of Belgium's UCB, Roch Doliveux, says his firm will continue to invest heavily in R&D, while also extolling the virtues of the environment for such work in the UK.

Speaking with journalists in London just after UCB unveiled its financials for 2011, Mr Doliveux told PharmaTimes World News that the death of innovation has been wildly exaggerated. Regarding the Brussels-headquartered group's activities in the UK, where UCB has 600 staff (400 in R&D), he noted that it is in the top five of research investors in the country.

He added that the science base in the UK, notably in Oxford and Cambridge, is still very strong and is on a par with the work coming out of more-vaunted California. UCB is keen on expanding its alliances with academia and Mr Doliveux said that the structure and vibrancy coming out of universities (new students with new ideas every year) complements his firm's expertise in immunology and central nervous system disorders.

As for the figures, UCB's sales inched up 1% to 3.25 billion euros, while underlying profitability was down 5% to 683 million euros due to launch and higher R&D expenses.

Revenues from its biggest-seller, the anti-epileptic Keppra (levetiracetam), were up 3% to 966 million euros. The drug is off-patent in a lot of key markets, and generic competition in North America reduced sales there by 14%, but Mr Doliveux told PharmaTimes World News that UCB has managed the threat well in Europe, ie by launching an authorised generic in Germany, but sales will be eroded significantly in 2012.

UCB’s new products performed well, especially Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. It had sales of 312 million euros, up 63%, while the new antiepileptic Vimpat (lacosamide) brought in 218 million euros, an increase of 70%. Sales of the Neupro (rotigotine) patch for Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome rose 16% to 95 million euros.

Mr Doliveux concluded by saying that UCB's solid performance in 2011, "the momentum of our new medicines, new geographies and our promising pipeline provide a platform for future sustainable growth without major patent expiries ahead".