Psoriasis and cardio drugs drive Novartis’ Q1 sales

Novartis has begun 2019 at a sprint, upgrading its sales forecasts for the year after strong performances from psoriasis drug Cosentyx and cardiology medicine Entresto.

The company’s revolutionary CAR-T cancer cell therapy Kymriah has also begun to gain traction after a slow launch, according to the Q1 figures.

Novartis has forecast a $4.7 billion windfall next quarter from the company’s decision to spin off its Alcon eye care business as part of its new focus on innovative medicines and therapies under new CEO Vas Narasimhan.

Novartis now expects core operating income growth at a high-single-digit percentage rate, with sales growing in the mid-single-digit percentage range.

Before today’s results it had forecast net sales growing by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage, with core operating income up at a mid-single-digit rate.

Figures show that first quarter net income rose 13% at constant exchange rates to $2.81 billion, ahead of expectations of around $2.76 billion consensus predicted by a poll cited by Reuters.

Excluding revenues from Alcon, sales rose 7% to $11.1 billion, compared with the poll’s predicted average of $10.9 billion.

Sales of Cosentyx grew 41% compared with last year’s Q1 to $791 million, while Entresto sales were up 85% to $357 million.

Entresto is used to reduce risk of cardiovascular death and hospitalisation for heart failure in certain patients with chronic heart failure.

The strong growth in sales was thanks to new data supporting beginning therapy in hospital.

Oncology sales grew 9% driven by the company’s recently-acquired radiopharmaceutical Lutathera for neuroendocrine tumours, which contributed $106 million to revenues.

Promacta, a drug for anaemia caused by cancer that was originally developed by GlaxoSmithKline, increased sales by 24% to $307 million thanks to a label expansion.

Meanwhile Kymriah, the company’s CAR-T cell therapy for certain advanced blood cancers has been boosted by approvals in Europe and Japan after initially struggling to find a foothold in the US where it was first marketed.

The drug has a complex and expensive manufacturing process, which involves taking a patient’s T-cells and genetically modifying them to attack cancer before they are reintroduced to a patient’s body.

Novartis says it is now reimbursed for at least one indication in 14 countries, and has increased manufacturing capacity in the EU.

Despite the positive news from approved medicines, Q2 will be crucial for Novartis’ new strategy as it awaits a decision from the FDA on its revolutionary spinal muscular atrophy drug Zolgensma.

The one-off therapy is a powerful treatment for the lethal rare disease affecting babies, and could carry a price tag in the region of $2 million if approved.

But the news that a baby’s death may be tied to treatment with the therapy could affect the regulator’s review.

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