PRA Health Sciences posts double-digit gains

Pharmaceutical services company PRA Health Sciences reported better-than-expected double-digit growth in the fourth quarter and projected that revenue this year will rise 14 to 16 percent.

Colin Shannon, CEO of the Raleigh company, told analysts during a conference call Thursday that strong new business awards in the fourth quarter and the opening months of 2017 meant that the company needed to “continue aggressive hiring and building substantial bench strength.” Shannon didn’t offer any specifics with regard to hiring.

Company spokeswoman Christine Rogers wrote in an e-mail that hiring target numbers for the current quarter aren’t available.

During all of last year PRA’s work force jumped from 12,000 to 13,500, including the addition of some employees stemming from a strategic partnership with Japanese drug giant Takeda Pharmaceutical announced in September. PRA reported at that time that about 300 Takeda employees would transition to PRA in the United States and Europe, but Rogers said that transition is still ongoing. Earlier this month the partnership with Takeda was expanded to include Japan.

PRA has about 580 employees locally after adding 80 new hires in the past 12 months.

PRA shares closed at $61.06, up 2 percent, on Thursday.

PRA reported after the markets closed Wednesday that fourth-quarter service revenue rose to $413.6 million, up 14.2 percent, versus $405.2 million projected by analysts polled by Bloomberg News.

Adjusted net income totaled, $45.9 million, up 22.3 percent. That boosted earnings per share to 71 cents, which analyst John Kreger of William Blair & Co. noted was six cents better than consensus estimates.

Net new business awards totaled $587 million in the fourth quarter.

The fourth-quarter results showed “further progress for PRA across a whole host of financial and operating metrics,” Shannon said. “In our two-plus years since our IPO, we have made significant investments ... We have laid the foundation for long-term, sustainable growth.”

For the full year, PRA posted revenue of $1.58 billion, up 14.8 percent. Adjusted net income was $162.3 million, up 28.6 percent. Adjusted net income totaled $2.52 per share.

For all of 2017, PRA projects service revenue of between $1.795 billion and $1.835 billion. The company anticipates adjusted net income per share will rise between 22 percent and 26 percent.

Contract research organizations such as PRA help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies conduct clinical trials and analyze the results.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii