Withdrawn products and generic competition to big earners is going to hurt Novartis for the next year or so but a return to double-digit sales growth should be seen by the second half of 2008 through to 2011.

This was the main message coming out of the Swiss company’s Pharma Brand and Business Review in East Hanover, New Jersey, USA, a meeting which saw chief executive Daniel Vasella reiterate the firm’s fears that earnings are going to take a hit from generics of some big sellers. These include the blood pressure drug Lotrel (almodipine/benazepril) and the antifungal Lamisal (terbinafine), and it is also going to take some time to recover from the withdrawal of the irritable bowel syndrome drug Zelnorm (tegaserod) after it was linked to possible heart attacks and strokes.

Also proving problematic is the COX-2 inhibitor Prexige (lumiracoxib), which has been withdrawn in Australia and placed under restrictions in the European Union amid fears that it may cause serious liver damage. Prexige, which is used to treat painful symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, is awaiting a US regulatory decision, scheduled for September 26 and Dr Vasella fears the worse, saying “I give you my personal opinion, I don't think we will get an approval".

Despite such setbacks, however, Novartis was more bullish in a number of areas, most notably over the prospects for the antihypertensive Tekturna/Rasilez (aliskiren), which was launched in the USA in March. Despite accounts to the contrary, Alex Gorsky, head of pharma North America, said the product had made a good debut (“we compare very well with other new entrants”) and there are promising signs for future growth, with surveys showing nine out 10 physicians intended to increase prescribing in the next three months.

There were no great surprises in terms of pipeline and Novartis reiterated its view that growth will be boosted by the “full global launch and roll-out programme of a projected ten new products in 2007 and 2008. However it did say that it was looking to return up to 100% of its free cash flow to stockholders by way of share buy-backs until its next annual general meeting in February 2008. The company had previously announced plans for a $4 billion buy-back.