The "Skinny" on Sanofi-Aventis

12/09/2005 12:00 am EST

Focus:

Vivian Lewis

Editor and Publisher, Global Investing

When it comes to finding foreign opportunities, few can compete with Vivian Lewis. Importantly, her Global Investing newsletter focuses on shares that can be easily bought by US investors. Here, she looks at one of her current buys - Sanofi-Aventis - and its promising obesity drug.

"There's good news to report on French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis (SNY NYSE), one of our recommended stocks. The company announced that the promising results of the first round of major phase III trials for a new obesity drug, Rimonabant, were published in The New England Journal of Medicine . Phase III trials aim to set the dose for a drug coming to market, after earlier trials establish the efficacy and safety of the drug. Two dosages were tested in two groups of patients, along with a third group of patients given a placebo.

"The trial evaluated the drug in overweight or obese patients with abnormal blood lipids-high triglycerides and/or high total cholesterol or HDL-cholesterol ratios, to be more technical. The findings showed that patients on Rimonabant experienced a significant improvement in a range of risk factors that may contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The improvements included reduction in triglyceride levels and increases in HDL-or good- cholesterol.

"Significantly, analysis suggested that increases in adiponectin, a protein associated with reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, were beyond what could be attributed to weight loss alone. This raises the potential of a direct effect of Rimonabant on adiponectin. Results included reductions in waist size and body weight, improved glucose tolerance, and lower blood pressure. Significant improvements were also seen in emerging risk markers, including a reduction in C-Reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation associated with cardiovascular risk.

"After a year, patients treated with Rimonabant achieved a 12.6% reduction in triglyceride levels compared to a 0.2% reduction for those on a placebo. This was accompanied by a 19.1% increase in HDL-cholesterol for patients on Rimonabant, compared to 11% for those on placebo. Patients had an average decrease in their waist circumference of 2.7 inches, vs. less than an inch for those on the placebo. High waist size is an indicator of excess abdominal fat, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. As in other trials, patients on Rimonabant lost an average of 15.2 pounds, compared to 3.3 pounds for the placebo group.

"Further, 58.4% of patients treated with Rimonabant lost more than 5% of their body weight, compared to just 19.5 % of patients in the placebo group. Even in this non-diabetic population, treatment with Rimonabant led to decreased insulin levels and improvements in glucose tolerance, both important predictors for the development of type 2 diabetes. Decreases in blood pressure were also seen among those taking Rimonabant. The report concludes that Rimonabant may constitute a novel therapeutic approach to improving the cardiometabolic risk profile seen in overweight or obese patients. Meanwhile, we continue to recommend the stock and hold the shares in our model portfolio."

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