Actelion sees data on big drug hope in coming weeks

Zurich: Europe`s largest biotech company Actelion said it expects results of a pivotal late-stage clinical trial on heart and lung disease drug macitentan in the next few weeks, as a strong Swiss franc and competition hit first-quarter profit.

Net profit dropped 69 percent to 45.1 million Swiss francs ($44.8 million), missing analysts` average forecast of 66.8 million Swiss francs in a Reuters poll, due in part to the strength of the Swiss currency.

"As expected the market place remains very challenging, mostly due to changes in the competitive landscape in the United States and strong pricing pressures in certain markets," Chief Executive Jean-Paul Clozel said on Thursday.

Actelion is trying to cut its dependence on its main product Tracleer, which accounts for around 90 percent of group sales and is facing growing competition from Gilead`s rival drug Letairis.

First-quarter Tracleer sales slipped to 363.7 million Swiss francs from 402.8 million Swiss francs a year ago.

All eyes are on the results of a late-stage clinical trial of macitentan, billed as a Tracleer successor, which the company expects to be available in the next few weeks.

Its success is vital if Actelion is to protect its dominant position in the pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) market. Tracleer will lose market exclusivity from 2015.

PAH is a disease that results in high pressure in the lungs, meaning the heart has to pump against too much resistance.

Actelion lifted its outlook, saying it now only expects sales in local currencies to decrease by a low single-digit percentage in 2012, from a previously expected decline of low-to-mid single digits, due to more favorable U.S. pricing in the first quarter.

The Basel-based firm said it remained on track for flat core earnings in 2012.

Bureau report

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