PARIS - French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis raised its earnings growth goal for the year and outlined new cost savings to help it cope with the effect on profit of patent expiries on a number of its top drugs.
Sanofi beat the average of analysts' forecasts for its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday when it raised its growth forecast for adjusted earnings per share (EPS) to around 10 percent at constant exchange rates from at least 7 percent.
The group, world leader in flu vaccines, will get a boost from increased demand due to the spread of H1N1 swine flu, though the sales impact in 2009 may be limited.
Cost savings of 2 billion euros by 2013 as well as support from key growth drivers such as vaccines, diabetes products like Lantus and emerging markets should help Sanofi achieve a net profit and sales level similar to that in 2008. Then, net profit excluding items was 7.2 billion euros, on sales of 27.6 billion.
Analysts said the guidance provided a floor to earnings as Sanofi heads into a period of heavy patent losses, allowing rivals to make cheaper copies that could affect about a fifth of its sales.
While the new 2013 guidance is higher than our current estimates, it still begs the question of what investors should be willing to pay for a company that will have negative growth across an extended period, said Tim Anderson of Sanford Bernstein.
Sanofi shares rose as much as 2.5 percent in morning trade, then fell as much as 1.1 percent and were up 1 percent at 47.42 euros by 1503 GMT -- ahead of the DJ Stoxx healthcare index .SXDP, which rose 0.3 percent.
It's been a very good quarter short-term, but we have also moved to position ourselves for long-term growth, Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher said at a news conference. We hit on all the objectives we wanted to achieve.
Since Viehbacher's appointment in December, the world's fourth-largest drugmaker by sales has closed a number of partnerships to discover new drugs, embarked on takeovers in generics and overhauled its research and development.
It is good to see they're serious about restructuring and cleaning out the pipeline; that is coming down to the new leadership team, Helvea analyst Karl Heinz Koch said.
Viehbacher stuck to his strategy of focusing on takeovers of up to 15 billion euros -- while not entirely ruling out a bigger deal -- to help Sanofi grow and diversify. He declined to comment on developments on Sanofi possibly buying Merck's half in their Merial animal health joint venture.
DITCHES TWO MORE PRODUCTS
On top of the 14 products it had already dropped from its pipeline, Sanofi said it had ditched two more -- Phase II schizophrenia treatment AVE1625 and Phase III cancer side-effects drug xaliproden. On the other hand, four new drug candidates entered clinical development.
Sanofi said there had been no significant changes in the prescription of flagship drug Lantus following studies that linked the insulin with cancer. U.S. and European Union health regulators did not support the studies and independent experts invited by Sanofi concluded the studies were flawed.
Sanofi's second-quarter net profit rose 29.4 percent to 2.3 billion euros, bolstered by 11.2 percent higher sales at 7.48 billion, as well as by contributions from acquisitions. Along with Lantus, group sales benefited from forecast-beating growth for four other key products, including blood thinner Plavix and cancer drug Eloxatin.
Those drugs, however, could face early generic arrivals.
A U.S. court in June cleared the path for cheaper copies to Eloxatin to appear, and in May the European Medicines Agency gave the green light to six generic versions of Plavix, which is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb in the United States.
Viehbacher said Sanofi had received major orders from the U.S. and France for H1N1 flu vaccines and was in discussion with more than 30 countries about supplies.
But he cautioned 2009 sales might not be that large, since supply depended on variable vaccine yields and it would take time to process orders. At the moment, we don't think the H1N1 sales will necessarily be that significant this year, he said. (Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Marcel Michelson and Will Waterman)