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Latest Riposte in French Pharma Fight

by Alexander H. Tullo
February 9, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 6

Fighting off a hostile bid from rival French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Synthélabo, Aventis pushed up the new product pipeline review set for spring to its earnings presentation last week. This step was an effort to show shareholders that it is worth more than the $76-per-share Sanofi offered last month.

Aventis' core businesses posted a 5.9% rise in sales in 2003, based on constant exchange rates, to $21.2 billion. Net income was up 17.5% to $3.1 billion.

Chairman Igor Landau argued that the offer doesn't recognize his company's growth potential, which includes some 94 chemical entities and vaccines in development.

In addition, the company is set to launch four new drugs in 2004. They include Ketek, a ketolide antibiotic for respiratory tract infections; Genasense, which was submitted to FDA late last year for fast-track approval as a treatment for malignant melanoma; the fast-acting insulin Apidra; and Sculptra, a dermal-contouring agent for people with lost facial volume due to lipoatrophy.

"Their hostile bid is a cheap attempt to transfer their risks to our shareholders," Landau said. "It is very clear: They need us; we don't need them."

Separately, Aventis got a stay of the European Commission's requirement that it reduce its 15.3% stake in Rhodia to below 5% by April, a condition of Rhône-Poulenc's merger with Hoechst to form Aventis in 1999. Rhodia has been battered by financial problems that are reflected in its stock price. Over the next several years, Aventis will be allowed to sell off its 49% stake in Wacker-Chemie instead.


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