SmithKline fit despite lost patent

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SALES of Tagamet, SmithKline Beecham's ulcer drug, collapsed after the expiry of its American patent, dropping by 76 per cent in the US in the third quarter as doctors switched to cheaper generic equivalents.

The impact was reinforced by stockpiling last year. 'The unfavourable year-to-year comparison was compounded by a strong 1993 quarter when wholesalers built stockpiles in anticipation of a price increase,' said Jan Leschly, chief executive.

The fall in Tagamet sales was largely expected, however, and SmithKline underlined the extent to which the drug was no longer its key product with a sparkling performance in sales of new products, especially the anti-depressant Seroxat/Paxil.

Sales of new pharmaceutical products rose by 83 per cent to pounds 226m in the three months ended 30 September and now account for around 27 per cent of SmithKline's pharmaceutical sales. The latter rose 3 per cent to pounds 846m, with growth driven by volume, not price.

Total sales were up 8 per cent at pounds 1.59bn in the quarter. But pre-tax profits fell slightly to pounds 285m ( pounds 291m), as interest costs rose following SmithKline's successful dollars 2.3bn takeover of Diversified Pharmaceutical Services, the US pharmaceutical benefit manager, and its dollars 2.9bn purchase of drug firm Sterling Winthrop.

SmithKline has already sold some of Sterling's North American operations to Bayer for dollars 1bn but has plans to sell other businesses in an effort to reduce its dollars 4bn of debts. Mr Leschly said he was in no hurry, as many of the businesses involved were profitable.

In the US, pharmaceutical sales were down 4 per cent as a result of the decline in Tagamet prescriptions. Excluding Tagamet, pharmaceutical sales climbed 31 per cent in the US and 21 per cent worldwide.