GlaxoSmithKline unveils best results since merger

The news came after the British pharmaceuticals giant unveiled its best annual performance since 2000 when it was formed from the merger of SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome. Strong sales of the asthma drug Advair propelled sales to £21.7bn last year, up 8 per cent. With pre-tax profits rising to £6.7bn, earnings per share were up 21 per cent to 82.6p, better than City expectations.

For this year, GSK's chief executive, Jean-Pierre Garnier, issued a cautious estimate of 10 per cent earnings growth, but said it could be higher if GSK gets "lucky" on generic challenges to some products. GSK will file Cervarix, its biggest new drug hope, to European regulators next month and it could be on the market next year. Pressure has increased on GSK to push on with getting the drug approved because Merck has submitted its experimental Gardasil shot in the US and Europe and just announced US regulators would give it a priority review. That means it could be launched in the US in June, six months before GSK even files for approval.

M. Garnier has always said there is a big potential market with room for two products. A company spokesman said yesterday there is a chance that US regulators could also speed up the approval process for Cervarix. Analysts have estimated Cervarix could bring in £2bn of sales a year, which would make it the biggest-selling vaccine ever.

Other exciting developments include Tykerb, a treatment for breast cancer, and Eltrombopag, a blood-clotting agent for use in cancer treatment. GSK expects eight major drugs to enter final phase III clinical trials this year.

M. Garnier reiterated the drugs pipeline was his main priority but added the company's strong balance sheet left it well placed to make strategic acquisitions. GSK has been eyeing the Swiss biotech Serono which it hopes to buy for a cut price after an auction for up to $15bn (£9bn) failed, according to insiders.

M. Garnier was tightlipped about Serono and Pfizer's consumer healthcare business, which might be sold or spun off. He also said GSK had sold its entire Relenza flu production for 2006 and parts of 2007. Governments are stockpiling the drug alongside Roche's Tamiflu in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

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