Novartis' Tasigna beats Glivec in 24-month study

ZURICH, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Novartis AG's NOVN.VX blood cancer drug Tasigna is better at slowing down progression of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) than the Swiss drugmaker's older drug Glivec, a 24-month study showed.

The trial, which is being presented at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, confirms two earlier studies, which had already shown that Tasigna exceeded Glivec in disease progression at both 12 and 18 months.

The news gives Novartis’ oncology pipeline a boost as it increasingly focuses on drugs prescribed by specialists for diseases such as cancer to protect profitability when top-selling drugs, such as blood pressure drug Diovan, start to face generic competition.

Novartis underscored its commitment to a shift away from mass-market medicines last week when it said it would cut 1,400 U.S. sales posts in general medicine.[ID:nLDE6AT244]

The group is banking on Tasigna to replace second-best seller Glivec, which loses patent protection over the next few years, and the positive data should also help Tasigna to gain a stronger foothold in this market.

Novartis oncology chief Herve Hoppenot told Reuters earlier this month Tasigna had been gaining market share in the second-line setting very quickly, despite coming to the market after Bristol-Myers Squibb's BMY.N rival drug Sprycel. [ID:nLDE6B013O]

Investors will now eye late-stage investigational data from Novartis on blockbuster Zometa in pre and postmenopausal women with early breast cancer for further clues about the prospects of the group’s oncology pipeline.

Novartis is due to publish this at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. (Reporting by Katie Reid and Jason Rhodes; Editing by Louise Heavens)