By Natalie Grover and Silvia Aloisi
PARIS (Reuters) -French drugmaker Sanofi said on Wednesday its dispute with Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim over potential liability for cancer claims in the United States, linked to heartburn drug Zantac, would be decided this quarter at the earliest.
The two companies are in arbitration to decide what Sanofi's obligations might be, given Sanofi acquired the marketing rights to Zantac from Boehringer in 2017.
A decision was initially expected by the end of 2022. Now, Sanofi sees it some time this year, and at the end of the first quarter at the earliest.
"Obviously as with all arbitrations, this is a completely closed process so there's no way to know if this means anything in any way at all," Barclays analyst Emily Field said.
Sanofi's shares were up nearly 1% in morning trade, hitting highs last seen in August earlier in the session.
Thousands of U.S. lawsuits claiming Zantac caused cancer have been disputed by the plethora of drugmakers that have sold either the branded or generic version of the drug since it was initially approved in 1983 and went on to become one of the first medicines to top $1 billion in sales.
Originally marketed by a forerunner of GSK, the medicine has been sold at different times by companies including Pfizer, Boehringer and Sanofi as well as several generic drugmakers.
Last month, a federal judge knocked out about 50,000 claims on the basis they were not backed by sound science. Later in December, Bloomberg reported Sanofi and Pfizer had settled a claim in California.
"Sanofi settled this case not because it believes these claims have any merit, but rather to avoid the expense and distraction of a trial in California," it said.
On Wednesday, Sanofi also said it expected fourth-quarter results next month to benefit from a stronger dollar and flu vaccine sales.
The drugmaker, which reports results in euros, made more than 40% of its sales in the first three quarters of 2022 in the United States.
The preliminary estimate is for currency movements to have boosted fourth-quarter sales by 4.5%-5.5% and core earnings per share by 6%-7%, Sanofi said.
Barclays' Field said there was not much to read into this, other than that the foreign exchange impact was a bit lower in the fourth quarter than expected for the full year. She added most people focused on organic growth, which strips out currency moves.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Silvia Aloisi in Paris, and Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)