PARIS (Reuters) - Sanofi, which sacked its chief executive three weeks ago, gave a weak sales outlook for its diabetes drugs on Thursday, overshadowing plans to reap more than 30 billion euros ($38 billion) from new medicines.
The French drugmaker said it aimed to launch up to 18 new drugs by the end of 2020 and told investors it was working hard to find the best possible successor to ex-CEO Chris Viehbacher.
"There is a driver in the seat even in this interim period," said Chairman Serge Weinberg, who has taken the helm while Sanofi looks for a new boss. He restated that investors should not expect any change in the group's strategy.
Investors are concerned about Sanofi's management and financial prospects since the drugmaker warned last month that sales of its popular Lantus insulin were slowing more sharply than expected. The board subsequently sacked CEO Viehbacher over his go-it-alone management style.
Thursday's long-planned investor event focused on drugs expected to launch in the coming years, including the world's first vaccine against dengue fever, the injectable cholesterol-lowering drug alirocumab and the allergy treatment dupilumab.
"I would not trade this pipeline with anybody else's pipeline," said Sanofi head of research Elias Zerhouni, quashing speculation that Viehbacher's ouster might tempt him to leave.
Sanofi expects to launch up to six new medicines in 2015 alone and about one every six months between 2016 and 2018. It hopes the launches will help mitigate its dependence on Lantus, the world's most prescribed insulin and its top-selling drug.
Sanofi and its partner Regeneron also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had granted a fast-track development and review process to dupilumab in the treatment of atopic dermatitis, a chronic form of eczema.
Sanofi had previously said it would not give more detailed financial guidance before annual results in February.
But it warned on Thursday that its diabetes business, which accounts for more than a fifth of group revenue, would post little or no growth between 2015 and 2018, sending its shares down 3.5 percent by 1500 GMT.
Sanofi's forecast assumes a substantial conversion of patients from Lantus to an improved version of the drug, Toujeo, continued sales growth in emerging markets and U.S. launches of new diabetes drugs including inhaled insulin Afrezza.
Leerink analyst Seamus Fernandez said the downbeat assessment for diabetes sales and the fact Sanofi was banking on substantial patient switching to Toujeo was below his assumed sales growth of 2 percent over the period.
Diabetes drugs, a market expanding worldwide as obesity increases, has long been Sanofi's cash cow but the drugmaker's pricing power is set to shrink as so-called biosimilar copies enter the market over the next two years.
Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Clarke, Jason Neely and Jane Merriman