Sanofi-Aventis has posted a strong set of financials this morning boosted by strongs sales growth for its top 15 products, especially its diabetes drug Lantus.

Third-quarter sales rose 5.5% on a comparable basis (though down 2.4% on a reported basis) to 6.85 billion euros, while adjusted net income reached 1.92 billion euros, up 2.1%. Pharmaceutical revenues grew 4.9% to 5.91 billion euros, despite the decline in sales suffered by the Stilnox/Ambien (zolpidem) sleeping pill franchise as a pile of generic versions hit the market after US patent protection was lost. Ambien sales fell 3.4% to 201 million euros, while generic versions of the cancer drug Eloxatin (oxaliplatin), this time in Europe, led to a 6.9% revenue decline to 325 million euros.

There was a lot of positive news, however, as Sanofi enjoyed another increase in sales of its bloodthinner blockbuster Plavix (clopidogrel), up 5.7% to 630 million euros, while the antithrombotic Lovenox (enoxaparin) was up 8.5% to 635 million euros. There were strong showings for the cancer drug Taxotere (docetaxel), sales of which were up 13.2% to 505 million euros, while the diabetes drug Lantus (insulin glargine) shot up 29.1% to 612 million euros.

Sales of the antihypertensive Aprovel/Avapro/Karvea (irbesartan) increased 14.6% to 298 million euros. The anti-obesity drug Acomplia (rimonabant), which has just been suspended from the European market on concerns over its psychiatric side effects, had sales of just 27 million euros.

Sales at Sanofi’s human vaccines unit rose 9.4% to 947 million euros, driven by the polio-pertussis-Hib franchise which climbed 42.6% to 194 million euros, helped by the launch of Pentacel (the first five-in-one paediatric combination jab to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and haemophilus influenzae type b) in the USA in July. Sales at Sanofi Pasteur MSD, the joint venture with Merck & Co in Europe rose 14.9% to 372 million euros, buoyed by the cervical cancer jab Gardasil, which had revenues of 144 million euros, up 42.8%.

In terms of R&D, Sanofi noted that it has decided to discontinue development of AVE2268 (an oral SGLT-2 inhibitor for type 2 diabetes) and of surinabant (a CB-1 receptor antagonist for smoking cessation), the same family as Acomplia. The company raised its guidance for 2008, saying that adjusted earnings per share excluding selected items should grow at around 9%, compared with a previous forecast of 8%.

The reaction from analysts has been pretty positive though UBS analyst Gbola Amusa issued a research note expressing concern about the number of research projects the French drugmaker has terminated recently. He said “we see a heightened risk that Sanofi turns to an expensive M&A deal rather than ceasing investment in less productive R&D activities".

Investors seemed pleased with the performance and Sanofi shares were up 1.9% at 11.15 this morning, UK time.