Novartis sales disappoint as Diovan patent loss bites

ZURICH Thu Oct 25, 2012 2:08am EDT

The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen on the top of an office building at the company's plant in Basel January 28, 2009. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen on the top of an office building at the company's plant in Basel January 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis posted lower-than-expected third quarter sales on Thursday, dragged down by the loss of a U.S. patent on its top-selling blood pressure drug Diovan and lower sales at its Sandoz unit.

Third-quarter net sales fell 2 percent to $13.807 billion, falling short of the average forecast in a Reuters poll of $14.032 billion, while core earnings per share fell 6 percent to $1.34, in line with consensus.

Novartis is facing headwinds from a wave of patent expiries sweeping through the global pharmaceutical industry. Sales of Diovan, which went off patent in the United States on September 21, fell 32 percent in the third quarter to $969 million.

The drugmaker is banking on sales of its newest products, such as multiple sclerosis pill Gilenya and breast cancer drug Afinitor to offset declines in Diovan. Recently launched products accounted for 29 percent of group net sales in the quarter, up from 25 percent a year ago.

Sales at its generics division Sandoz fell 6 percent to $2 billion hit by growing competition for generic enoxaparin, a copycat version of blood thinner Lovenox originally produced by Sanofi.

Lingering manufacturing problems at the Lincoln manufacturing site in Nebraska, which has annualised sales of $1 billion, continued to weigh on the Consumer Health division, where sales fell 16 percent to $938 million.

Novartis has been beset by a raft of manufacturing problems this year. The firm said it was taking longer than originally anticipated to restart commercial production at Lincoln.

On Wednesday, Italy banned the sales and use of four anti-influenza vaccines produced by Novartis pending tests for possible side effects. Novartis said it was confident that two vaccines manufactured in Italy were safe and had seen no safety concerns to date.

Novartis confirmed its outlook for 2012 and said the strong dollar would shave approximately 3-4 percent off full-year sales and 2-3 percent off operating profit. This is a slightly smaller impact than it forecast in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)

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