First quarter net profits rose 16% at Switzerland’s Novartis to $1.5 billion dollars, as sales increased 11% to $7.3 billion, driven by continuing growth from the firm’s pharmaceuticals and generics divisions, prompting the company to reiterate its sales and earnings projections for the full year [[21/01/05a]].

Pharmaceutical sales climbed 11% to $4.8 billion over the same period last year [[22/04/04a]], with the blood pressure drug, Diovan (valsartan), rising 14% to $845 million and the oncology drugs, Glivec (imatinib), Zometa (zolendronic acid) and Femara (letrozole), climbing 36% to $496 million, 15% to $296 million and 47% to $118 million, respectively. The firm enjoyed an 11% rise in revenues from the anti-fungal, Lamisil (terbinafine), to $249 million, while Elidel (pimecrolimus) for eczema jumped 32% to $106 million, in spite of regulatory moves in the US earlier this year to add a “black box” warning to the drug’s label to highlight a potential cancer risk [[11/03/05a]]. The company’s irritable bowel syndrome therapy, Zelnorm/Zelmac (tegaserod), was up 16% to $80 million, but Neoral (cyclosporine) for transplant rejection slumped 13% to $226 million as a result of generic competition.

The Sandoz generics business posted a 7% hike in sales for the three-month period to $803 million, which was helped by strong growth in Europe and the benefits of last year’s Durascan and Sabex acquisitions [[01/07/04b]], [[16/08/04d]]. The unit looks set to see further growth in the coming years with Novartis’ announcement earlier this year that it would be buying privately-held German firm, Hexal, and its partner, Eon Labs of the USA [[21/02/05b]]. These transactions are expected to close before the end of 2005.

For 2005, Novartis reiterated that it is expecting high single-digit net sales growth for the entire firm and the pharmaceuticals business. “We anticipate delivering a competitive performance in 2005 with record sales and, on a comparable basis, record earnings,” said Dr. Daniel Vasella, the firm’s chairman and chief executive.