Sanofi shares tank 7.4% on diabetes business warning

Reuters with CNBC.com

Shares of Sanofi tumbled around 7.4 percent early on Tuesday after the French drugmaker reported weaker-than-expected third-quarter sales, with its lucrative diabetes business hit by price pressures that are set to last.

Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher declined to comment on reports the board chairman was seeking to replace him, saying he was focused on his job and that the board had supported his transformation of Sanofi over the past six years.

"I'm the CEO of this company, I'm focused on delivering results. The board of directors confirmed yesterday that the succession issue was not on the agenda," Viehbacher told reporters on a call.

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Sanofi stuck to its full-year profit forecast. It has sought to offset the impact of patent losses on big-selling drugs such as blood thinners Plavix and Lovenox by betting on harder-to-copy biotechnologies, over-the-counter treatments and animal health products.

But one of its key growth areas, diabetes, slowed sharply in the third quarter as it was forced to offer rebates on sales in the United States in the face of stiff competition. Sanofi warned the impact was set to last and that diabetes drug sales would be "broadly stable" next year—when many analysts expected them to keep growing.

Sales at the diabetes franchise rose 8.3 percent at constant exchange rates, slower than the 16.2 percent second-quarter increase and consistent double-digit growth previously.

Pricing pressures from cash-strapped governments seeking to restrict healthcare spending and tough competition from generics has prompted drugmakers worldwide to rationalize their businesses and triggered a wave of mergers and acquisitions.

Sanofi, however, has largely stood on the sidelines. Viehbacher has repeatedly said Sanofi was always on the look-out for acquisitions, but would not do deals at any price.

He stressed that while some groups were refocusing on core businesses, Sanofi believed in its diversified model and had considerably replenished its pipeline of new drugs, including a potential blockbuster cholesterol treatment—a follow-on to its top-selling diabetes drug Lantus and the world's first dengue vaccine.

"The confidence we have in the outlook of the company is such that we can afford to be choosy when looking at M&A," he said.

Sanofi has also been looking at ways to reduce the drag on its growth from an $8 billion portfolio of mature drugs in Europe, the bulk of which are produced in France. The review took the board by surprise and could explain its sudden coldness with Viehbacher, a source familiar with the matter said.

But Viehbacher said teams weighing different options had not found a satisfactory solution for the portfolio, which generates precious cash flow despite being on the decline.

"There is no major plan to do anything in France or anywhere else on these products or anything else," he said.

Sanofi's business net income, which excludes items such as amortization and legal costs, rose 9.4 percent to 1.935 billion euros ($2.46 billion) on sales of 8.781 billion, putting business earnings per share (EPS) at 1.47 euros per share.

This compared to average forecasts for EPS of 1.47 euros on sales of 8.86 billion in a company-provided poll of 14 analysts.

Sales of its Lantus insulin—which accounts for more than a fifth of its sales and a third of its operating profit but is set to lose patent protection early next year— posted growth of just 5.8 percent over the quarter to 1.04 billion euros. This compared to 16.3 percent growth in the second quarter.