Novartis has been extolling the virtues of its pipeline to investors, with particular focus on oncology as it aims to make five cancer drug submissions next year.

At the event held in Basel, the Swiss major noted that two oncology submissions in the USA and Europe are on track before the end of 2009. These will involve Tasigna (nilotinib) for first-line use in patients with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukaemia and Zometa (zoledronic acid) for adjuvant use in certain types of patients with breast cancer.

Novartis says it has 16 compounds in R&D, including six new molecular entities in pivotal trials. If all the data comes up trumps, up to five filings are planned for 2010, two of which could be for Afinitor (everolimus) which is currently approved for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma. The two other indications Novartis will be looking to secure are for patients with advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours and for tuberous sclerosis complex.

The three NMEs that should be submitted are SOM230 (pasireotide) for Cushing's disease, carcinoid tumors and acromegaly, LBH589 (panobinostat) in Hodgkin's lymphoma and EPO906 (patupilone) in ovarian cancer.

Novartis said that its cancer drugs will play a key role as it faces the end of market exclusivity for its blockbuster antihypertensive Diovan (hypertension) in Europe (2011) and the USA (2012). David Epstein, head of oncology, said the firm has, over the last several years, dramatically grown its presence in this therapeutic area to become the second largest company (after Roche).

Away from oncology, Novartis said it is on track to complete the regulatory submissions in Europe and the USA of its once-a-day oral multiple sclerosis drug FTY720 (fingolimod) by the end of 2009. It will also shortly file Lucentis (ranibizumab), which is already approved for wet age-related macular degeneration, for diabetic macular oedema in Europe.

Novartis currently has 148 projects in clinical development (some 60 or so are NMEs), including 27 in late-stage studies. It is waiting for regulatory decisions on eight drugs.