Sanofi-Aventis has posted healthy-looking figures for the first quarter and has concluding an R&D review that means the end of the road for four late-stage compounds.

First of all the financials and the French drugmaker posted adjusted net earnings of 2.18 billion euros, a rise of 15.7% or 1.67 per share (+16.8%). of 5.49 euros, 6.2% higher than that generated in 2007. Net sales for the year slipped 0.2% to 7.11 billion euros due to the negative impact of currency, but taking this out of the equation turnover grew 2.5%.

Sanofi’s biggest-seller was the antithrombotic Lovenox (enoxaparin), up just 1.3% (at constant exchange rates) to 762 million euros and the French drugmaker said that the modest performance was largely due to abnormally high sales (up 23.3%) in the USA during the first quarter of 2008. The diabetes treatment Lantus (insulin), enjoyed a sales rise of 27.1% to 747 million euros.

The cancer drug Taxotere (docetaxel) was up 8.3% to 534 million euros, while the bloodthinner Plavix (clopidogrel), partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb, brought in 685 million euros to Sanofi’s coffers, up 3.6%. The antihypertensive Aprovel (irbesartan) increased 11.1% to 314 million euros, while the colorectal cancer drug Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) declined 7.0 % to 344 million euros, due to generic competition in Europe. Sanofi’s vaccines division contributed 627 million euros, up 9.1%.

In its forecast for the coming year, Sanofi confirmed it expects growth in adjusted earnings per share of at least 7% at CER, barring major adverse events such as the launch of a generic of Lovenox in the USA.

However most eye-catching is the completion of Sanofi’s “comprehensive and rigorous review” of its R&D portfolio. In Phase III trials, it has discontinued development of the anti-depressant saredutant, AVE5530 in hypercholesterolemia (due to insufficient efficacy), and returned the rights of cancer drug TroVax to the UK’s Oxford BioMedica. In vaccines, the company has also dropped Unifive to reallocate resources to Hexaxim.

Additionally, four Phase II studies have been discontinued – AVE0657 for sleep apnea, SSR180575 for diabetics, the cancer compound AVE1642 and a melanoma vaccine. Six projects in Phase I have also been pulled and Sanofi’s portfolio now comprises 51 projects, of which 21 are either in Phase III or have been submitted for regulatory approval. Vaccines represent 35% of the total, other biological products 14%, and external collaborations 27%.

However that could again change as Sanofi said that in the next few months, it plans to decide on four drugs – the anticoagulant idrabiotaparinux, the neurotrophic agent xaliprodene, the cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist AVE1625 and the firm’s West Nile virus vaccine.

Chief executive Chris Viehbacher said that Sanofi took all 65 projects “and we gave them our own version of the ‘stress test’.” This involved looking at the compounds in terms of innovation, “did they represent a true value-added for patients”, an acceptable risk technically and commercially and the likelihood of generating a good return. “We can accelerate and concentrate” on the projects that are left and “of course, we’re going to be looking outside now to supplement that portfolio”, he added.

The first quarter was a busy one for Sanofi, notably with three acquisitions in the generics field – the Czech Republic’s Zentiva, Kendrick of Mexico and Medley of Brazil. Mr Viehbacher added that “we don’t have enough new products in our pipeline to really compensate for the products that we will lose when products like Plavix go off-patent in 2012”.

As such, “we need to be pushing organic growth, which we’re doing, but it also means that we’ll be looking to acquire companies that can build the platforms of growth that we have identified: vaccines, OTCs, generics, as well as of course our own pharma business”.