Novartis has posted a 10% earnings decline for the second quarter this morning but has surprised observers by upping its full-year forecast for pharmaceutical sales.

Net income came in at $2.04 billion, hit by the impact of currency and costs related to the acquisition of a majority stake in Alcon, while sales slipped 2% to $10.55 billion, though were up 8% in local currencies. Pharmaceutical turnover was up 3% to $6.93 billion, driven by the blood pressure lowerer Diovan (valsartan), where sales increased 2% to $1.53 billion, while Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib), for chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours, were up 5% to $990 million.

Sales of Femara (letrozole), for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer, climbed 7% to $310 million and Zometa (zoledronic acid) for cancer complications brought in $359 million, up 4%. Turnover of the acromegaly therapy Sandostatin (ocreotide) slipped 3% to $281 million.

As for Novartis’ newer products, the cardiovascular drug Exforge (amlodipine plus valsartan) brought in $168 million, up 66%, while Exjade (deferasirox), the first once-daily oral therapy for treating patients with iron overload, was up 34% to $173 million. Lucentis (ranibizumab) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration shot up 21% to $294 million, while Reclast/Aclasta (zoledronic acid) for osteoporosis climbed 80% to $115 million.

Commenting on the results, chief executive Daniel Vasella said “our pharmaceuticals business continues to deliver double-digit underlying growth, driven by the strong momentum of our recently launched products”. He noted that the first six months has seen Novartis get approvals for Afinitor (everolimus) for advanced kidney cancer patients and the auto-inflammatory disorder drug Ilaris (canakinumab), adding that “we continue to expect record underlying results in constant currencies”.

Specifically, Novartis said that pharmaceutical sales for 2009 would rise at a “high-single-digit rate,” compared with an earlier forecast of mid-to-high-single-digit rate growth. Dr Vasella also noted that the company is “advancing well in our efforts to rapidly produce and commercialise a vaccine against the H1N1 virus”, with clinical trials set to begin this month.