The prognosis for big pharma in the next few years has been divided between the "haves" and "have nots." The "haves" like Merck (NYSE:MRK) and Novartis have exciting, recently approved drugs and strong drug pipelines, whereas the "have nots," most notably Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), will lose patent protection on their lead drugs and face daunting sales struggles in the future.

Most drugmakers are saving their 2008 guidance for upcoming investors' conferences and 2007 year-end meetings in January and February, but a vanguard of the big pharmas have already announced their 2008 guidance. 

The first of the pack
So far, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) have given definitive 2008 earnings per share (EPS) guidance.

Thanks to the ending of generic competition against Bristol's lead drug Plavix, it will finally return to a year of growth in 2008. Lilly is also guiding for a better 2008 thanks to growth in Cymbalta.

2007 EPS guidance*

2008 EPS guidance*

Bristol-Myers Squibb

At high end of $1.42 to $1.47 EPS range

$1.65 to $1.75 EPS range

Eli Lilly

Pro forma $3.50 to $3.55 EPS range

$3.85 to $4.00 EPS range

*Non-GAAP forecasts.

The Bristol-Myers comeback has been a long time coming, after Canadian drugmaker Apotex flooded the market in 2006 with its at-risk launch of generic versions of Plavix. In June, Bristol won a court battle validating its patents on Plavix, and next year will be the first time its earnings have meaningfully grown since the $1.43 per share it earned in 2005.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NYSE:NVS) also issued its guidance for next year, but in much more general terms. In 2007, Novartis expects overall sales growth in the mid-single digits percentage range as a result of having to pull irritable bowel syndrome treatment Zelnorm off the market, as well as the FDA's stubbornness on diabetes drug Galvus. In 2008, Novartis expects "a new growth cycle in Pharmaceuticals," which probably means the company expects more than the low-single-digit sales gains that its pharmaceuticals division will experience in 2007.

Bubble, bubble, boil and generic trouble
Merck has also released its 2008 guidance of $3.28 to $3.38. Its goal of "double-digit compound annual" earnings-per-share growth from 2005 to 2010 is going to be difficult to keep up when generic competition begins in February against its osteoporosis drug Fosamax.

Fosamax is Merck's third-highest-grossing drug, with 2007 sales expected in the $2.9 billion to $3.1 billion range. By the end of 2008, though, it will be bringing in only a fraction of these sales because of generic competitors. Fortunately, Merck believes that new compounds like HPV vaccine Gardasil and diabetes treatment Januvia should cover the Fosamax shortfall.

Unfortunately, other big pharmas like Pfizer have no recently approved drugs to make up for the ravages of generic competition. The upcoming year will be another very tough one for Pfizer as it deals with the overhang from former blockbuster compounds Norvasc and Zyrtec losing patent protection in 2007 and chemotherapeutic drug Camptosar in 2008.

Old world, renewed growth
While Merck and Pfizer deal with their generics woes next year, Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY) dodged a bullet this year now that the FDA appears completely unwilling to approve any generic versions of its top-selling blood clot drug Lovenox. With Lovenox generic worries out of the picture for at least the near term, Sanofi should have a fine 2008 even with the issues it's facing over its Ambien insomnia drug franchise.

No big-pharma roundup would be complete without a mention of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK). Glaxo's recent troubles with its second-best-selling drug, diabetes treatment Avandia, are well known. Unfortunately, these issues with Avandia scuttled my blue-chip pharma pick for 2007. In 2008, Glaxo should experience renewed sales growth again, as HPV vaccine Cervarix launches throughout Europe and, hopefully, also in the United States. Glaxo will also be ramping up sales of weight-loss drug alli and will see its first full year of novel breast cancer drug Tykerb on the books.

With this new pharma knowledge in hand, come over to Motley Fool CAPS and rate these drugmakers either outperform or underperform. You can also see what other investors think about these big-pharma behemoths.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is an active Inside Value pick. The Fool has an A+ disclosure policy.