published Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Patent expirations push Chattem buyout

Sanofi-Aventis

* Global sales: $27.6 billion in 2008

* Key products: Vaccines, prescription drugs, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals

* Global operations: 100,000 employees in more than 100 countries, headquartered in Paris

* U.S. operations: 15,000 employees, headquartered in Bridgewater, N.J.

* History: Formed in 2004 when Sanofi-Synthélabo acquired Aventis

Sanofi-Aventis is the world's fourth-largest prescription drug maker with sales in more than 100 countries, but the French company faces a challenge in switching popular prescription drugs such as its allergy-relief Allegra into America's over-the-counter market.

The solution, according to Sanofi-Aventis CEO Christopher Viehbacher, will come next year from Chattem Inc.

Chattem's success in building name-brand pharmaceuticals and its industry-leading profit margins make the Chattanooga firm an ideal partner to transform Sanofi-Aventis, Mr. Viehbacher said. For all its global success in developing and selling some of the top-selling drugs, Sanofi-Aventis has little experience in marketing drugs after their patents expire in the United States, where the company foresees 25 percent of its potential growth.

"Our ability to convert prescription medicines to over-the-counter products will be enhanced by Chattem's leading sales, marketing and distribution channels," Mr. Viehbacher told investors Monday after announcing its $1.9 billion offer to buy Chattem. "We have great respect for Chattem's world-class management team, which has an excellent track record of sales and earnings growth based on building strong brands."

Sanofi-Aventis is awaiting approval to switch its popular allergy drug Allegra from prescription-only to an over-the-counter version. The company was approached by numerous drug companies eager to take over the brand, but buying Chattem will help Sanofi-Aventis build Allegra and other such future over-the-counter products within its own company.

"We had significant interest (in Allegra) and this is what caused us to sit up and take notice," said Hanspeter Spek, head of global operations for Sanofi-Aventis.

With Chattem, officials said they believe they are acquiring an entrepreneurial-style company, albeit one that is more than 130 years old.

"We have a passion for our brands," Chattem CEO Zan Guerry said, referring to the company's 26-brand lineup.

Chattem ranks among the top 10 U.S. consumer health companies but sells little in other countries. The Chattanooga company last year had the highest operating profit margin among its peers at nearly 35 percent, far better than the 20 percent for such industry leaders as Procter & Gamble, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health Care.

Down the road, Sanofi-Aventis foresees switching some other drugs to nonprescription versions. Mr. Viehbacher cited allergy spray Nasacort, acne treatment BenzaClin and Penlac for fungal nail infections.

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