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Sanofi lifts forecast on swine flu vaccine

Sanofi-Aventis raised its outlook for 2009 thanks to sales of swine flu vaccine and posted earnings per share growth that beat forecasts as competition from generics was offset by revenue growth for other drugs.

Sanofi expected H1N1 vaccines to add about $500 million to its sales in the fourth quarter and indicated sales would continue "at a similar rate" until into first quarter, as in both periods most vaccine shipments will take place.

The French drugmaker on Friday predicted 2009 adjusted earnings per share excluding items would grow by around 11% at constant exchange rates instead of around 10% before.

EPS in the third quarter beat expectations, increasing 16.3% to €1.71, in part thanks to continued cost cutting. The average outcome of a Reuters poll among 15 analysts was for EPS of €1.61. Sales just missed consensus, up 8% at €7.4 billion rather than €7.44 billion.

Swine flu treatments have boosted growth for several drugmakers.

Next to Sanofi, AstraZeneca on Thursday increased its outlook, while GlaxoSmithKline on Wednesday said it was in line for a booster from its H1N1 vaccine in the last quarter.

"We will see quite a big bonus of sales (in the fourth quarter) of H1N1 and seasonal flu," Sanofi Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher said at a conference call. Sales of seasonal flu vaccines will take off in the fourth quarter this year.

For now, it is unclear how the worldwide spread of H1N1 will continue and last, but Viehbacher said that strain of flu could be a factor until April.

"I would see us continue to sell more or less at the same rate into 2010, at least up until late spring," he said. "Beyond that it is difficult to see if the pandemic will continue."

Sanofi is awaiting European Union regulatory approval for two versions of its H1N1 flu vaccine, expecting clearance for the Panenza vaccine in the next couple weeks and for the Humenza adjuvented, or booster-type, vaccine by mid-December.

In the past quarter H1N1 sales were €78 million, with shipments to the United States beginning in September.

Extra revenues from swine flu vaccines will only temporarily help Sanofi's battle to overcome a loss of about a fifth of its revenues in the next years due to patent expiries on blockbuster drugs, making way for cheaper copies from generic drugmakers.

Third-quarter sales growth, pulled by anti-thrombosis drug Lovenox, insulin Lantus, as well as vaccines, was partly held back by competition from generics to Sanofi's cancer drug Eloxatin in the United States in August and blood thinner Plavix in Europe. Eloxatin sales fell 44%.

Sales of irregular heart beat drug Multaq, touted by Sanofi and analysts as a blockbuster, were €13 million. The drug has been available for eight weeks in the United States and is awaiting EU marketing approval. So far prescriptions and reactions to Multaq were "very encouraging," Sanofi said.

"Most (analyst) forecasts I've seen strike me as being reasonable forecasts," Viehbacher said. "I think you can certainly say this will be a major product for the company."

Consensus estimates from analysts for Multaq peak sales range from €1 billion to €1.5 billion.

Analysts welcomed Sanofi's earnings performance, while the EPS upgrade for the year had been expected

"Solid growth that was driven by surprisingly strong sales of Sanofi's key products Lantus and Lovenox, cost savings and positive currency effects," DZ Bank analyst Thomas Maul said in a research note, rating the shares "buy."

"In our view Sanofi-Aventis is reacting in an ideal manner to the forthcoming "years of patent expiries" with the efficiency-enhancing measures it has launched, the recent acquisitions and its efforts to develop into a broadly-based healthcare group."

As part of Sanofi's aim to diversify its business, it said on Thursday it was expanding its over-the-counter-drugs, buying French nutritional beauty supplements maker Oenobiol. Oenobiol sales reached €57 million so far this year. No financial details were disclosed.

Net debt increased to more than €5 billion at the end of September from €1.8 billion at the end of 2008 following a string of acquisitions, such as generic drugmakers in Latin America, biotech company Shantha and the buy-out of animal healthcare company Merial. (Reuters)