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Sanofi-Aventis Revenue Swells

Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) said Monday that full-year sales rose 9% to $33 billion as strong gains from its vaccine business and several signature products were partly offset by generic competition for several other drugs.

Fourth-quarter sales gained 5% to $8.46 billion.

The French company won't issue its earnings results until Feb. 24, although it said last year's earnings per share, excluding one-time items, should be about 25% higher than for 2004.

Meanwhile, many analysts are paying more attention to two big upcoming events that will have a major impact during the rest of the decade than to last year's and last quarter's sales and earnings.

Next month, the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to rule on Acomplia, a proposed treatment for obesity and addiction to smoking that has made some analysts giddy with excitement.

In April, Sanofi-Aventis will ask a U.S. court to prevent another company from selling a cheap, generic copy of the anticoagulant Plavix, the company's second-biggest product and the biggest-selling drug for its marketing partner Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY).

"Each [event] has the ability to impact shares significantly," says Tim Anderson, of Prudential Equity Group, in a research report issued last week.

A court defeat for the generic challenger means five more years of patent protection for a drug that produced $2.45 billion of sales for Sanofi-Aventis and $3.82 billion for Bristol-Myers Squibb. The FDA recently allowed the Canadian company Apotex to sell generic Plavix, but Anderson and other analysts doubt Apotex will act until the court has ruled, or unless it settles with Sanofi-Aventis.

A favorable FDA decision for Acomplia means the drug could be on the market during the second quarter. "Acomplia is the most promising late-stage pipeline product" among European drug companies, says Gbola Amusa, of Sanford C. Bernstein, in a research report published several days before Sanofi-Aventis issued in earnings report. "The weight is over."

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