By Melanie Lindner, FORBES.com, 01.03.08 – Analysts and investors felt their blood pump a little faster on news of Sciele’s latest blood pressure drug approval.

Sciele Pharma announced after the close of trading on Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted the Atlanta-based company approval to market and manufacture its new version of Sular, a drug used to treat patients with high blood pressure. The FDA approved the new formulation of the drug in four different dosages.

According to Sciele, the new Sular formulation, which uses SkyePharma’s patented Geomatrix technology, provides a lower dose of Sular for each of its current doses. The company hopes to launch the new drug during the first quarter of 2008.

Sciele Pharma’s latest FDA approval sent its stock soaring in Thursday trading. Sciele gained 11.4%, or $2.26, to $22.10.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Ken Trbovich said the approval is “great news” for Sciele, though he noted that the launch of newly formulated Sular cannot be judged until later this spring. Trbovich raised his price target on Sciele to $23.00 from $21 and predicted that the stock would rise up to 15.0% on the news.

Other analysts were less bullish about the FDA’s approval of the new Sular. Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Robert Uhl cut his 2008 profit estimate to $1.90 from $2.05 as Sciele will no longer be profiting from sales of the original version of Sular. Uhl noted that Sciele’s patent on Sular expires in June, and therefore predicts that shares may waver in the interim period of patients switching from the old version of Sular to the new one.

In 2007, Sular accounted for about $127.0 million in sales, or about 33.0% of Sciele’s total sales.

According to Uhl, Sciele is slated release several other medications during the first quarter of 2008 including a relauch of Prandin, a diabetes treatment, and a prescription product for head lice. Uhl expressed concern that these introductions will require “significant marketing expense outlays and could pressure bottom-line performance.”

Gur Roshwald of Piper Jaffray noted that Mylan, a maker of generic pharmaceuticals, has filed for regulatory approval to start producing generic Sular. According to Roshwald, the real question for the future of newly formulated Sular is whether patients who used the original version will transfer to the new one, or choose the generic version instead, should it become available.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.