Swiss drugmaker Novartis and its development partner Idenix have filed telbivudine, their new drug for treating chronic hepatitis B, in the European Union.

The drug, formerly known as LDT600, has already been filed in the USA and further submissions in Asia are scheduled to take place within the next few weeks, Novartis said in a statement.

Telbivudine has been tipped as a big seller for Novartis, as clinical trials have suggested it is more effective than the current standard treatment, GlaxoSmithKline's Zeffix (lamivudine), in tackling chronic hepatitis B infections.

A recent report by market analyst Decision Resources suggested that telbivudine would be one of a handful of products expected to drive growth in the market for antiviral hepatitis B drugs, from around $1 billion at present to $3 billion by 2012. Analysts have sugested Novartis' drug could achieve annual sales of around $400 million or more at peak.

Chronic hepatitis B is the world's most common serious liver infection and affects more than three million people in Europe and over 350 million people worldwide.

Novartis is working together with Idenix on various hepatitis product candidates, including telbivudine and valtorcitabine for hepatitis B. The Swiss firm also has an option on Idenix' valopicitabine, a potential drug for hepatitis C, and last year signed a $570 million deal with Anadys Pharmaceuticals for ANA975, another hepatitis C candidate.