Sanofi-Aventis has posted a 4.5% increase in adjusted net income (excluding selected items) for the fourth quarter to 1.43 billion euros, in line with analysts’ expectations, though sales slipped 2.2% to 6.91 billion euros.

The results were reasonable given the decline in sales suffered by the Stilnox/Ambien (zolpidem) sleeping pill franchise as a whole host of copycat versions hit the market after US patent protection was lost. Ambien sales sank 64.6% to 185 million euros, while generic versions of the cancer drug Eloxatin (oxaliplatin), this time in Europe, led to a 2.9% revenue decline to 365 million euros.

Nevertheless, Sanofi celebrated another increase in sales of its bloodthinner blockbuster Plavix (clopidogrel), up 14.0% to 609 million euros, while the antithrombotic Lovenox (enoxaparin) leapt 17.4% to 674 million euros. There was also strong showings for cancer drug Taxotere (docetaxel), sales of which were up 14.7% to 476 million euros, while the diabetes drug Lantus (insulin glargine) shot up 31.4% to 552 million euros

On the negative side, sales of the blood pressure lowering drug Tritace (ramipril) fell 28.3% to 195 million euros, due to generic competition in Canada. Also proving a disappointment again was the obesity drug Acomplia (rimonabant), sales of which reached just 21 million euros

Human vaccine sales fell 15.3% to 649 million euros as the result of earlier shipments of influenza jabs than in 2006, but growth at Sanofi Pasteur MSD, the joint venture with Merck & Co in Europe, was impressive. Sales there rose 44.4% to 371 million euros, buoyed by the cervical cancer jab Gardasil, which had revenues of 160 million euros.

Aside from product sales, Sanofi’s results presentation in Paris caught the eye principally through the announcement that it is lifting its dividend to shareholders by 18.3% to 2.07 euros, while earnings per share growth in 2008 should be around 7% at constant euro/dollar parity.

Monoclonal antibody deal with Dyax
On the R&D side, the Paris-headquartered group said it remains on track to make 30 potential new drug filings by the end of 2010. It also announced the signing of a deal with Dyax Corp concerning the development of the latter’s DX-2240 human monoclonal antibody product.

Sanofi has also been granted a worldwide non-exclusive licence to Dyax's proprietary antibody phage display technology and under the terms of the agreements, Dyax could receive up to $500 million, plus royalties.

The investment community has responded positively to Sanofi’s results and the dividend hike is proving popular as are the company’s tight control of costs. At 9.50 this morning, the stock had edged up 0.4% to 51.72 euros per share.