By WRAL Tech Wire

RALEIGH, N.C. – Salix Pharmaceuticals (SLXP) has beat first-quarter expectations for the first quarter of 2012.

Salix, which specializes in drugs for gastrointestinal ailments, reported earnings of 67 cents a share, which is nearly double than a year-ago, and beat analysts’ estimates by 10 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

Sales rose 62 percent from a year ago to $171.1 million, more than $3 million over analysts’ consensus. The company’s leading drug, Xifaxan, provided $112.9 million of that revenue.

Xifaxan was first approved in 2004 for travelers’ diarrhea, but in 2010, a more powerful version was approved to treat a rare condition called hepatic encephalopathy. It’s the only drug in the U.S. currently approved for that purpose.

Cash and cash equivalents for the company were reported at $665.9 million as of March 31. Salix forecasts 2012 sales at $735 million, below analysts’ average of $744 million.

Salix is continuing to look for market opportunities for Xifaxan. Its earnings release noted that in February it had launched a trial of Xifaxan for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea, which it expects to take two years to complete.