Novartis has posted record full-year sales and earnings for 2006, driven once again by its cardiovacular and oncology drugs, while “productivity initiatives” kept costs down.

The Swiss firm was in buoyant mood at its annual results conference in Basle, Switzerland, as it unveiled a 15% rise in net sales to $37 billion, while net income was up 17% to $ 7.2 billion. Pharmaceutical revenues climbed 11% to $22.58 billion, with sales of the antihypertensives Diovan (valsartan) and Lotrel (benazepril and amlodipine) sales reaching $4.2 billion (+15%) and $1.4 billion (+26% in the USA), respectively, while Gleevec (imatinib) for certain forms of chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours soared 17% to $2.6 billion. Other products that impressed included Femara (letrozole) for breast cancer,which rose 33% to $719 million and the irritable bowel syndrome treatment Zelnorm/Zelmac (tegaserod), up 34% to $561 million.

Bone cancer drug Zometa (zoledronic acid) brought in £1.3 billion, up only 4%, which Novartis said was the result of an overall slowing of the market in the USA and Europe, while sales of the antifungal Lamisil (terbinafine) fell 13% to $978 million, as the effects of generic competition in Europe took hold.

More worrying was the 27% decline in sales of Visudyne (verteporfin), for age-related macular degeneration, to $354 million and the chief executive of Novartis Pharma, Thomas Ebeling, told PharmaTimes World News that the fall was due to competition from Macugen (pegaptanib) and off-label use in the USA of Roche and Genentech’s Avastin (bevacizumab).

Of the firm’s new products, the allergic asthma drug Xolair (omalizumab) brought in $102 million in non-US sales, while Exjade (deferasirox), the first once-daily oral iron chelator for chronic iron overload, contributed $143 million to Novartis’ coffers.

Productivity savings boost coffers

Mr Ebeling told PharmaTimes World News that the figures were looking particularly healthy because Novartis had also mananged productivity savings of $450 million through intelligent strategies involving sourcing, purchasing, the firm’s IT projects and sales and marketing. When asked if Novartis would start following the likes of Pfizer in making cuts in its field force, he said that was unlikely at the moment and in fact the Swiss group has added 1,000 sales reps in the USA to support the impressive number of launches it has made this year.

As for 2007, Mr Eberling said that the firm is preparing for “an unprecedented number of launches” of new medicines. This could be eight, all being well, with the highest hopes being reserved for the diabetes drug Galvus (vildagliptin), the antihypertensives Tekturna/Rasilez (aliskiren) and Exforge (valsartan and amlodipine besylate) and Tasigna (nilotinib) for patients with resistance to Gleevec.

All the firm’s other sectors, vaccines/diagnostics, the generic arm Sandoz (where sales were up 27% to nearly $6 billion) and consumer health performed well and reaction on the ground here in Basle was overwhelmingly positive ahead of an analysts' meeting later in the day. By Kevin Grogan in Basle