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Extending the use of the blood-thinning drug Plavix along with aspirin for up to a year significantly reduces the risk of heart attacks, stroke and death, according to results of a study released Monday by

Bristol-Myers Squibb

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.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, examined 2,116 patients undergoing angioplasty procedures to repair blocked coronary arteries. Patients given Plavix and aspirin for one year after their procedure had a 27% reduction in the combined incidences of heart attacks, stroke and death, compared with patients taking aspirin alone.

Plavix and aspirin are currently given to heart patients for about four weeks after an angioplasty procedure, so the results of the "CREDO" study could persuade doctors to extend the drug's use.

Bristol-Myers Squibb and

Sanofi-Synthelabo

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co-market Plavix, which racked up $1.35 billion in sales last year.

The main patent on the active ingredient in Plavix expires in 2011, but generic drugmaker

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Dr. Reddy's Laboratories

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already has filed plans to market a copycat version.

The positive Plavix news comes after the struggling drugmaker received Food and Drug Administration approval Friday to market Abilify, its new schizophrenia drug. Abilify could be Bristol-Myers' next blockbuster product because it causes fewer side-effects than current schizophrenia treatments, such as Zyprexa from

Eli Lilly

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and

Pfizer's

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Geodon.

But as Bristol-Myers appears to make some progress on the product front, it is still hobbled by financial problems stemming from its well-publicized inventory-stocking crisis. Last week, the company, acknowledging a further delay, said it would restate past financial results and file its third-quarter 10-Q in February.

Shares of Bristol-Myers were up 2% to $24.64 in recent trading. Shares of Sanofi were up 1% to $30.72.