Swiss drug giant Novartis’ Exjade has been given a green light by European regulators to treat iron overload in patients receiving a blood transfusion, offering a convenient new alternative in the form of a once-daily drink.

Exjade (deferasirox) is now the only iron chelator approved for use in the European Union that provides continuous chelation coverage for the removal of excess body iron in a single dose, marking a “new era in treating iron overload,” remarked David Epstein, chief executive of Novartis Oncology.

While the current standard of care, Novartis’ Desferal (deferoxamine), is effective, the product requires an infusion via a pump that can last up to eight to 12 hours - almost every day – so an orally active alternative is expected to appeal to patients and rapidly gain market share.

Desferal sales have stayed fairly flat over the last several years, bringing in upwards of $100 million dollars a year for the Swiss firm. But Exjade is thought to offer greater potential and should expand the market for iron chelators by extending treatment to patients unwilling to take the Desferal regimen, particularly children, according to Novartis.

Exjade has been approved in 29 countries around the world, including the USA where it received the go-ahead last November, and has been designated an orphan drug in the EU, Switzerland, Australia and America.

The firm said last year that it was expecting peak sales of $650-$750 million for the new product, but other predictions have placed estimates as high as $1 billion.