Many pharmaceutical companies, including those with a long history in cardiovascular medicine - are turning their back on the market in favour of more profitable indications, such as oncology, according to a new report from consultancy firm Datamonitor.

Novartis, for example, has enjoyed a lot of success in the cardiovascular market but is now actively exploring other avenues of growth, steering away from further development in core targets such as high blood pressure.

While still continuing to enjoy large revenues from its cardiovascular arm, an examination of Novartis’ R&D activities shows that it is now investing elsewhere, where it sees more future profit, according to Datamonitor analyst Laura Greenwood. A similar pattern is being seen in Roche, she added.

“With less R&D investment in the cardio-related markets, there is less chance for the development of new and novel products to advance treatment for diseases like hypertension,” said Greenwood.

The shift in focus comes as growth in the market for high blood pressure drugs, for example, has slowed down considerably in recent years. In 2005 it advanced just 4.3%, and Datamonitor predicts a further deceleration between 2006 and 2010 as a raft of big-selling drugs succumb to generic competition.

These include Pfizer’s calcium antagonist Norvasc (amlodipine), which has already lost patent protection in the UK and Spain, leading to a decline in sales of up to 50%. Norvasc will lose US patent protection next September, and while Ofizer has tried to defend the franchise with line extensions such as Caduet (amlodipine combined with lipid-lowerer atorvastatin), the strategy has so far been ‘disappointing’, said Greenwood.

Meanwhile, another big selling blood pressure drug clad, the angiotensin receptor blockers, will see its first casualty in Spain next year. Merck & Cos Cozaar (losartan) was the first ARB to reach the market ad while it is not the biggest seller, the onset of generics (which will occur in the USA in 2010) could alter the entire structure of the market, says Greenwood.

And this comes against a backdrop of swelling numbers of hypertensive patients, with the target population for antihypertensive drugs estimated to climb over 210 million people worldwide by 2015.