Novartis has posted pretty flat earnings for the third quarter this morning but has upped its full-year forecast for pharmaceutical sales.

Net income edged up 1% to $2.11 billion, hit by the impact of currency and costs related to the acquisition of a majority stake in Alcon, while sales were up 3% to $11.09 billion, (but up 7% in local currencies). Pharmaceutical turnover was up 8% to $7.22 billion.

Novartis’ biggest-seller was the blood pressure lowerer Diovan (valsartan), though sales increased just 1% to $1.46 billion, while sales of Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib), for chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours, were up 3% to $974 million. Femara (letrozole), for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer, climbed 14% to $329 million and Zometa (zoledronic acid) for cancer complications brought in $376 million, up 4%. Turnover of the acromegaly therapy Sandostatin (ocreotide) rose 2% to $300 million.

As for Novartis’ newer products, the cardiovascular drug Exforge (amlodipine plus valsartan) brought in $171 million, up 49%, while Exjade (deferasirox), the first once-daily oral therapy for treating patients with iron overload, was up 18% to $174 million. Lucentis (ranibizumab) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration shot up 52% to $335 million, while Reclast/Aclasta (zoledronic acid) for osteoporosis climbed 89% to $125 million.

Novartis said that pharmaceuticals net sales (in local currencies) are now expected to grow at a double-digit rate for the full year and operating and net income are expected to reach record levels in constant currencies. This excludes the contribution from H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine sales, which are expected to reach $400-700 million in the fourth quarter.

Commenting on the results, chief executive Daniel Vasella said he was pleased with “our strong underlying performance, led by the momentum of our pharmaceuticals business, outpacing the competition”. Novartis will be giving more details about the results on a conference call this afternoon.