AMSTERDAM - Dutch biotech firm Crucell reported a surprise first-quarter profit on Wednesday, its third in a row, on strong sales of paediatric vaccines and the company, widely viewed as a takeover target, reiterated its outlook.
Net profit for the period was 200,000 euros ($267,800), beating the average estimate of a 3 million euros loss from a Reuters poll of seven analysts, all of whom predicted a loss. Last year, the company reported a net loss of 9 million euros.
Our strong growth in the first quarter of 2009 demonstrates the effectiveness of our strategy for building our global business and expanding the number of people we protect from infectious diseases, Chief Executive Officer Ronald Brus said in a statement.
Following the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus in Mexico, commonly known as swine flu, Crucell, which makes flu hepatitis and typhoid fever vaccines, said it was in active dialogue with authorities, in common with other vaccine makers.
Crucell remains a very resilient investment, with a strong net cash balance over 100 million euros and profitable since last year, Petercam analyst Jan Van den Bossche said.
Shares in Crucell, which reported its first full-year profit in 2008, were up 4.4 percent at 15.85 euros at 1243 GMT compared with a 1 percent rise in the Amsterdam midcap index .AMX.
In response to a request from the Pan American Health Organization, Crucell said it has mobilised the remaining limited stocks of its 2008-09 seasonal flu vaccine for Mexico, but added it is not clear if existing flu vaccines induce protective immunity to the H1N1 swine flu virus strain.
Vaccination with a seasonal flu vaccine could help to build up an immune response against last year's influenza A/H1N1 strain which is expected to circulate again in the coming Northern Hemisphere influenza season, a spokeswoman said.
At least 20 companies make flu vaccines, including Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), Novartis (NOVN.VX), Baxter International (BAX.N), Australia's CSL (CSL.AX) and nasal spray maker MedImmune, now part of AstraZeneca (AZN.L). Crucell is a relatively smaller player.
Vaccine companies are discussing with the World Health Organisation if and when to switch to making a pandemic vaccine against the new H1N1 flu strain, but Crucell said it was too early to say whether it would be a possible vaccine supplier.
The demand for flu vaccines (in general) will rise this year due to the fact that flu is overall on the radar screen, Brus added.
Crucell said first-quarter sales rose 54 percent to 73.7 million euros and it reiterated its 2009 guidance of a 20 percent increase in revenues in constant currencies and a significant improvement in operating profit compared with 2008.
The increase in first-quarter sales was driven by strong sales of Crucell's paediatric vaccines, in particular its Quinvaxem vaccine which targets five childhood diseases.
In 2008, paediatric vaccines made up 49 percent of Crucell's sales and respiratory (flu) vaccines made up 14 percent.
In January, takeover talks with U.S. drug maker Wyeth (WYE.N) were cancelled after the acquisition of Wyeth by Pfizer (PFE.N) and investors have since speculated France's Sanofi-Aventis could be interested in the company.
The company declined to comment on possible takeover talks.
Leiden-based Crucell is one of the world's few remaining independent vaccine makers. ($1=.7467 euros) (Editing by Sharon Lindores)