Bristol-Myers Squibb posted a 1% drop in fourth-quarter 2005 net sales, with the pharmaceutical division faring even worse as competition constrained its cholesterol-lowering drug Pravachol.

Revenues for the quarter came in at $5 billion, while net earnings more than tripled from a year ago to $499 million, despite the falling sales, because of a one-off charge in the same period a year ago.

Worldwide pharmaceutical sales fell 3% to $4 billion, with a 1% drop in US revenue to $2.2 billion, due to an increase in wholesaler inventory levels in fourth-quarter 2004 and the effects of generic competition, said B-MS. Overall, Pravachol (pravastatin) sales fell 18% to $584 million.

Ex-US drug sales fell 6%, largely due to a decline in revenues from both cancer drug Taxol (paclitaxel) and Pravachol because of generic competition in Europe.

The bright point in the pharmaceutical business was antiplatelet drug Plavix (clopidogrel), which is marketed jointly with French group Sanofi-Aventis and is B-MS’ best-selling product. Sales of Plavix rose 11% to just over $1 billion.

Other products offsetting the impact of generic competition were colorectal cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab), Reyataz (atazanavir) for HIV, and the antipsychotic Abilify (aripiprazole) for schizophrenia and bipolar depression.

Orencia expectations

Peter Dolan, B-MS’ chief executive, predicted lower sales and profits for 2006, with earnings per share in the $1.15-$1.25 range, as Pravachol loses patent protection in the USA later this year.

But he said 2006 should mark the end of a difficult period at B-MS as a string of major products lost patent protection, although this depends on the outcome of patent litigation between the firm and Apotex concerning Plavix, which is due to come to court in April.

Dolan said the company would return to ‘sustainable’ earnings and sales growth in 2007, helped by new rheumatoid arthritis treatment, Orencia (abatacept), expected to be released within the next six weeks.