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Shares fall following Lantus safety concerns

French drug maker sanofi-aventis is being adversely affected by questions over the safety of its key diabetes product, Lantus

French drug maker sanofi-aventis (s-a) is being adversely affected by questions over the safety of its key diabetes product, Lantus.

The drug maker saw its shares drop by around 8 per cent on Friday, June 26, after the Lantus safety issue was brought up by UBS equity research teams on Thursday June, 25. UBS London analyst, Gbola Amusa, stated in a report that while safety risks linked to Lantus are only theoretical, his discussions with doctors had revealed a "number of long-established safety concerns, in particular that Lantus use may promote cancer". On the same day, the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) made an urgent call for more research into a possible link between use of Lantus and the increased risk of cancer, following evidence from studies in Germany, Sweden and Scotland reported in Diabetologia, the journal of EASD. The association did, however, stress that patients with diabetes taking Lantus should continue to do so until the research findings becomes available.

Although the data is inconclusive, both UBS and Morgan Stanley analysts have downgraded s-a until the results of a meta-analysis of UK patient trials are known. Credit Suisse has opted to remain on the fence, while Citigroup has retained a "buy" recommendation, despite thinking the company has staked much of its growth on the drug and that the data is "far from clear".

In defence of Lantus, s-a issued a press release on June 26 saying results of the studies "clearly show that no definitive conclusions can be drawn regarding a possible causal relationship between Lantus use and the occurrence of malignancies". The company also stated that data from studies of 70,000 patients and post-marketing surveillance data "confirm the safety profile of Lantus".

Bloomberg reports speculation that concerns over Lantus arose from a Credit Suisse sponsored conference call on June 11 in which a University of Texas diabetes researcher mentioned an "earthquake" event that would raise questions about Lantus's safety.

Lantus is presently s-a's third biggest seller and demand for the once-a-day form of insulin helped earnings exceed analyst expectations for the first quarter. 

29th June 2009

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