Operating profits. Positive earnings before interest and taxes. The anti-GM. No matter what you call it, that's what Elan (NYSE:ELN) is predicting this year -- the first time since 2001.

There are two ways to increase profits: increase revenue or keep costs in check. Elan is doing both.

The company's multiple sclerosis drug, Tysabri, continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate. Revenue from sales of Tysabri, which Elan sells with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB), increased 30% last year, compared to a 140% increase from 2007 to 2008. Some of the slowdown was to be expected -- you can't double sales every year forever -- but the increasing number of cases of potentially deadly progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) has a lot to do with the current sale trajectory.

In order to reaccelerate growth, Elan and Biogen need to convince doctors and patients that the side effects do not outweigh the benefit of Tysabri over other multiple sclerosis drugs like Teva Pharmaceutical's (NASDAQ:TEVA) Copaxone, Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) Extavia, and Rebif from Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and EMD Serono. To that end, they're planning on running a trial to see if switching from Rebif or Copaxone will decrease symptoms.

While sales of Tysabri will have the biggest affect on the future of Elan, the company has its hand in a few other potential big sellers. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Acorda Therapeutics' (NASDAQ:ACOR) Ampyra, which Elan manufactures and gets royalties from. Elan also gets royalties from Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) Invega Sustenna, which was developed using its nanocrystal technology.

On the expenses side, Elan has lowered its SG&A expenses slightly and decreased R&D expenses considerably after partnering with Johnson & Johnson on its late-stage Alzheimer's disease program. Elan and Johnson & Johnson set up a joint venture with Elan's half of the program -- Pfizer owns the other half -- but Elan isn't responsible for paying half of the expenses until they hit $500 million.

It will nice to see Elan showing an operating profit, and it'll be even better if Elan can hit its goal of being cash-flow positive by the end of the year. Now all investors need is net profits and a few advancements in the pipeline. Only then will the drugmaker get close to the list of stocks to never sell.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Novartis is a Global Gains selection. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor recommendation and the Motley Fool Options recommended buying calls on the stock. The Fool has a disclosure policy.