Shares in US drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb were given a leg-up yesterday on speculation that the company might be a potential takeover target, with whispers of interest from Sanofi-Aventis stirring up some excitement among investors.

The group’s shares closed up more than 6% last night after the Financial Times suggested that Sanofi just might be taking a closer look at B-MS, with which it already has a partnership for the blood thinner Plavix (clopidogrel). "It's speculation that they might be an attractive takeover target. Today's speculation is Sanofi as the acquirer,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan, as reported by the Associated Press.

Last week Sanofi’s new Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher reportedly told employees that the company has a large pile of cash that could be used for acquisitions to fatten its pipeline and diversify operations, and media reports suggest the firm has already been in talks with bankers over potential deals.

And last month analysts suggested that B-MS could be an attractive target to firms because of its strong financial position and good potential as a “break-up candidate”. The group posted a very healthy set of results for the fourth quarter, with net income of $1.24 billion compared with a year-earlier loss of $89 million, and according to Tim Anderson at Sanford Bernstein its earnings base is likely to grow substantially over the next four years, helping it to weather the storm of looming patent losses in 2012.

News on Plavix rival
But B-MS’ stock could also have received a boost on news that, while US regulators consider Eli Lilly and Daiichi Sankyo’s rival blood thinner Effient (prasugrel) to be more effective than Plavix, they are concerned over the higher risk of potentially fatal bleeding.

Although US Food and Drug Administration advisors are backing approval of Effient, they say its use should be restricted and that there should be strong warnings of the potential for internal bleeding, which could limit its impact on Plavix’ market share.

The FDA’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee is due to meet later today to discuss whether Effient should be approved for acute coronary syndromes and what limitations, if any, should be imposed on the drug’s use.