Europe's largest biotechnology company, Serono of Geneva, has reported net income of $320.8 million (SFr438.52 million) for 2002.
This represents a 1.3 per cent increase over 2001 but would have been up 14.6 per cent to $333.8 million without exceptional items, the company said.
Total product sales rose 13.9 per cent to $1.42 billion, underpinned by Serono's flagship multiple sclerosis drug, Rebif. It increased its worldwide sales by 44.6 per cent to $548.8 million.
Revenues, including income from royalties and licensing, rose 12.4 per cent to $1.55 billion.
In its second key market, reproductive health, Serono reported sales growth of 8.3 per cent.
In a statement, the company said growth was faster than the overall market, which has suffered in the economic downturn, because most customers pay for infertility treatment out of their own pockets.
"2002 was a very successful year for our company. We broke through the $1.5 billion revenue mark and achieved sales growth of 13.9 per cent," said Ernesto Bertarelli, Chief Executive Officer of Serono.
"I am particularly pleased with the excellent performance of Rebif in the US and the significant investments we have made, which position us very well for future growth," he added.
Serono's chief financial officer, Allan Shaw, said the company's "excellent cash flow" had led to a further strengthening of the balance sheet during the past year.
"This provides us with the financial flexibility to continue investing in opportunities to grow our business," Shaw said in the statement.
The company said it was upbeat about its business prospects for 2003.
Given the strong outlook for Rebif, the performance of Reproductive Health, and taking into account the business developments of 2002, Serono said it expected US dollar growth in 2003 of 15 to 20 per cent in total revenues and US dollar net income growth of 15 to 20 per cent on a reported basis.
Serono has proposed raising its dividend to SFr7 per share from SFr6.25. It also said it was taking a one-off charge of $16.3 million in the fourth quarter to cover the closure of its production facilities for urine-derived reproductive hormone products in Italy.
The share price of Serono has fallen by almost 50 per cent over the past year.
swissinfo with agencies
Serono is the third largest biotechnology company in the world.
Revenues in 2002 broke through the $1.5 billion mark.
The company is the world leader in infertility treatment.
CEO Ernesto Bertarelli is a billionaire and passionate yachtsman. His "Alinghi" team will take on Team New Zealand in the America's Cup on February 15.
In compliance with the JTI standards