Novartis has posted a 14% decline for the first quarter to $1.98 billion, hit by the impact of currency and costs related to the acquisition of a majority stake in Alcon, but its new pharmaceuticals are performing well.

Group sales came in at $9.71 billion, a decline of 2% but up 8% in local currencies. Pharmaceutical turnover was up 3% to $6.43 billion, driven by the blood pressure lowerer Diovan (valsartan), where sales increased 2% to $1.40 billion, while Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib), for chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours, edged up 1% to $894 million.

Sales of Femara (letrozole), for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer, climbed 6% to $286 million and Zometa (zoledronic acid) for cancer complications brought in $342 million, up 3%. Turnover of the acromegaly therapy Sandostatin (ocreotide) slipped 4% to $258 million.

As for Novartis’ newer products, the cardiovascular drug Exforge (amlodipine plus valsartan) brought in $136 million, up 89%, while Exjade (deferasirox), the first once-daily oral therapy for treating patients with iron overload, was up 12% to $122 million. Lucentis (ranibizumab) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration shot up 17% to $229 million.

Commenting on the results, chief executive Daniel Vasella said that new products fuelled ongoing momentum in pharmaceuticals “and the fundamentals of the business remain positive”. He added that R&D projects are progressing well, pointing to recent US approvals for Afinitor (everolimus) for advanced kidney cancer patients and the Ixiaro vaccine against Japanese encephalitis.

Dr Vasella added that “the uncertain economy and currency market volatility create an opportunity to continue to enhance productivity and manage costs”. He concluded by saying that “our aim in 2009 remains to again deliver record underlying net sales and earnings excluding currency effects”.

Novartis confirmed its 5% sales growth target for 2009, while pharmaceutical revenues are expected to rise at the mid- to high-single-digit rate.