Sanofi-Aventis has once again felt the effects of generic competition to its antithrombotic blockbuster Plavix in the first quarter of 2007, posting a 2.6% decline in net income to almost 2.12 billion and a 2% sales increase to 7.12 billion euros.

The Franco-German drugmaker’s earnings were hit by the absence of a one-off 384 million euro gain last year from the disposal of the firm’s interest in inhaled insulin drug Exubera to Pfizer. Plavix (clopidogrel) sales fell 1% in the quarter to 569 million euros, but the impact of generic competition to the drug in the USA from Canadian drugmaker Apotex which flooded the market in the summer of 2006, is dying down.

Sales of the antithrombotic Lovenox (enoxaparin) rose 8.2% in the quarter to 634 million euros while the stellar performance came from the Stilnox/Ambien (zolpidem) sleeping pill franchise which advanced 49.3% to 606 million euros. However that could be about to change as Ambien lost patent protection in the USA last month and a whole host of copycat versions are about to hit the market. Sanofi’s long-acting version of the drug, Ambien CR, had sales of 149 million euros, and HansPeter Spek, executive vice president for pharmaceutical operations, said on a conference call that the drug will be a catalyst to drive growth “and maintain our market leadership, adding that the group expects around half of existing Ambien users to switch to the CR version.

Sanofi is also being impacted by generic competition to other critical products, as well as government price cuts in some of the company's key markets like France and Germany, but their sales seemed to be holding up well. For example, Allegra (fexofenadine) for allergies were up 21.8% to 201 million euros, while Taxotere (docetaxel) sales were up 10% to 449 million euros. Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) slipped just 3.2% to 393 million euros and Amaryl (glimepiride) for diabetes was down 19% to 94 million euros.

Lovenox too is looking vulnerable to generic competition but despite this and the Ambien situation, Sanofi has raised its 2007 full-year adjusted earnings per share growth guidance from 6% to 9%.

One of the great hopes in Sanofi's pipeline, obesity drug Acomplia (rimonabant), made 15 million euros in the quarter, although some countries, notably Germany, have refused to reimburse the product, making its future uncertain. Its approval in the USA has also been delayed by requests for more information from the US Food and Drug Administration.