UCB of Belgium, which has been selling off its chemicals and films unit to become a pure biopharmaceutical player [[04/10/04f]], has posted a solid set of figures for 2004.

Net income rose 6% to 362 million euros and a 3% increase in turnover to 3.1 billion euros. Pretax profits slipped 2% to 473 million euros as a result of the effects of the weak dollar. Sales for UCB Biopharma unit were just short of 1.8 billion euros, a rise of

15%, which was boosted by the contribution of Celltech, the UK biotechnology company, which UCB acquired last year for £1.5 billion [[18/05/04a]]. However, the main growth driver was the antiepileptic Keppra (levetiracetam), up 33% at 417 million euros while Nootropil (piracetam) managed to hold up well against generic competition with sales of 103 million euros.

Competition did take a bit out of allergy sales, especially from the hay fever treatment Zyrtec (cetirizine). In the USA, total sales of the drug reached $1.3 billion (- 4%) of which UCB gets 236 million euros (it is sold by Pfizer), down 10%.

On the bright side, the antihistamine Xyzal (levocetirizine) brought in 104 million euros, more than double the figure for the year before, and during the last quarter, Xyzal sales overtook those of Zyrtec. The latter is already facing a generic threat in the USA [[05/08/04c]], though its patent does not expire until the end of 2007.

Celltech royalties contributed 52 million euros to UCB’s coffers, helped by strong performances from the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder treatment, Metadate (methylphenidate) and cold and flu treatment Tussionex (chlorpheniramine/hydrocodone).

As for the future, it is a Celltech product that is causing the most excitement. CDP-870 for Crohn’s disease rheumatoid arthritis is progressing well in Phase III trials [[22/09/04e]]. Chief executive Roch Doliveux said that the priority for 2005 is to complete the transition to being a pure biopharmaceutical firm, “to expand our base of marketed products and to advance the clinical development of our strong product pipeline.”

It was also revealed that the sale price of UCB’s Surface Specialties unit to Cytec Industries has been lowered to 1.4 billion euros from 1.5 billion euros and the firm is confident that growth of its biopharma business will compensate for the loss of the contribution of that division.