Wyeth has posted a healthy set of financials for the fourth quarter but is predicting a much tougher 2008 as it prepares to hurt by the patent expiration of Protonix.

Net income climbed 19% to $1.02 billion, or $0.75 per share, despite the firm taking a $63.9 million charge as a result of “productivity initiatives”. Group sales were up 10% to $5.76 billion and pharmaceutical revenues contributed $4.72 billion (+10%) to the total.

The most impressive performances came from the pneumococcal disease vaccine Prevnar, which grew 11% to $556 million, and the arthritis therapy Enbrel (etanercept), which jumped 36% to $565 million (excluding the USA and Canada, where it is sold by Amgen). In terms of its other drugs, Wyeth’s best-seller continues to be the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine), which rose 3% to $968 million, maintaining its place as “the number one global antidepressant in sales and prescription volume”.

The gastrointestinal drug Protonix (pantoprazole) climbed 10% to $461 million but this will probably be the last quarter it enjoys such growth. The treatment is now subject to generic competition and has been at the centre of a dispute between Wyeth and Teva.

The New Jersey-based firm has just launched its own copy of Protonix (pantoprazole) in response to Teva’s decision to sell its version in the USA. The two drugmakers had reached a standstill agreement which saw the Israeli drugmaker stop shipping its copycat version of Protonix but now Wyeth is selling its own generic, the gloves are off. India’s Sun Pharmaceuticals is also marketing pantoprazole.

EPS may fall by up to 5%
The significant reduction expected in Protonix revenues, plus the possibility of generic competition to Effexor means that Wyeth is now predicting a decrease of 1% to 5% in earnings per share for 2008 to $3.35-$3.39. The pressure is therefore on to replace this products but Wyeth has not had much luck in that department of late.

In the last year, the US Food and Drug Administration has issued an action letter for bifeprunox, an investigational compound for schizophrenia, while Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), for depression and the symptoms of menopause, only received an approvable letter. Viviant (bazedoxifene) for osteoporosis and the constipation drug methylnaltrexone have also fallen foul of the agency. Nevertheless, Wyeth still has high hopes for its pipeline and expects its first-in-class antibiotic Tygacil (tigecycline), for the treatment of patients with community-acquired pneumonia, to be approved this year, while the green light for Pristiq in depression could come as early as this month. An FDA panel will review Viviant again in July.

The results led Barbara Ryan, an analyst at Deutsche Bank to issue a note saying that “over the longer term, growth will moderate given the modest commercial prospects for most of Wyeth's late-stage drug pipeline”. In order to cut costs, it has also been reported that the firm is set to reduce its 50,000-strong workforce by 10%.