Sanofi-Aventis Reports Declining First-Quarter Profits

French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis on Thursday reported declining first-quarter profits, citing adverse currency movements, generic competition and a strong quarter in 2006.

However, the Paris-based company raised its guidance for 2007, predicting that adjusted earnings per share will now grow 9%, compared with an earlier forecast of 6% growth in the full year.

First-quarter income after minority interests decreased 2.6% to 2.117 billion euros ($2.88 billion), down from 2.173 billion euros.

Net sales in the period rose a modest 2% to 7.177 billion euros ($9.75 billion) from 7.035 billion euros, while consolidated net income was 2% lower at 2.23 billion euros ($3.03 billion).

Adjusted earnings per share declined to 1.57 euros ($2.13) from 1.62 euros in the first quarter of 2006, when Sanofi-Aventis booked a one-off gain from selling the rights to inhaled insulin product Exubera to Pfizer .

Sales of antithrombotic Lovenox, the company's best-selling drug, grew 8% to 634 million euros ($861 million) during the quarter, driven by its increasing use as a preventative.

European sales of Plavix -- an anticlotting product that last year faced generic competition in the United States, where it is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb -- rose 3% to 423 million euros ($575 million).

Acomplia, a breakthrough anti-obesity drug, had first-quarter sales of 15 million euros ($20 million), the company said, noting that it has been used by more than 130,000 patients since its European launch in June last year. Acomplia is also available in Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The drug is still awaiting final regulatory approval in the United States, where it is expected to be launched under the name of Zimulti. The Food and Drug Administration decision is expected by the end of July, after an advisory panel scrutinizes the pros and cons of the highly anticipated drug at a meeting on June 13.

During a conference call, Chief Financial Officer Jean-Claude Leroy declined to comment on ongoing speculation that Sanofi-Aventis may be considering a tie-up with Bristol-Myers Squibb.