US group Bristol-Myers Squibb has followed suit of its European partner Sanofi-Aventis by lowering earnings forecasts for the current financial year, to allow for a potential hit to profits on generic competition to their blockbuster blood thinner Plavix.

Although a US judge last week granted the firms’ request to prevent Canadian group Apotex from selling a copycat version Plavix (clopidogrel), at least until the pending patent lawsuit is resolved, it stopped short of ordering a recall of the latter's generic already on the market. This caused both groups to drop their earnings targets, on the assumption that sales of generic clopidogrel before the preliminary injunction was imposed could satisfy a significant portion of market demand until the end of the year.

On Friday evening, B-MS lowered its earnings per share forecast to no less than $0.95 for 2006, a substantial drop from its earlier target of 1.15 to $1.25, and just a few hours after Sanofi slashed its growth forecast from 12% to 2%.

Earlier this year, B-MS and Sanofi-Aventis actually joined forces with Apotex under an agreement whereby the Canadian firm would agree not to launch a rival version before 2011 in return for an undisclosed sum. But this did not sit well with US regulators, concerned over the anti-competitiveness of such 'sweetheart' deals, so the deal was scrapped and Apotex went ahead and launched its generic anyway.

To lose the world's second biggest drug ahead of patent expiry would likely substantially hurt the companies' forecasts, particularly B-MS which has just turned the corner of one tumultuous period in its history and last week was looking forward to "a period of sustained sales and earnings growth over several years, beginning 2007," with new product revenues outweighing dramatic losses for several drugs, including its once top-seller Pravachol (pravastatin).

A new trial for the patent litigation has been set for January 22, 2007.