Novartis arthritis drug falls short in challenge to global bestseller

ZURICH/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Novartis said a trial fell short of producing statistical evidence that its anti-inflammatory drug Cosentyx can beat the world’s best-selling drug Humira in treating a type of arthritis.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss drugmaker Novartis' logo is seen at the company's plant in the northern Swiss town of Stein, Switzerland October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The Swiss pharma giant said on Friday that Cosentyx, used in a trial to treat active psoriatic arthritis, yielded “numerically higher results versus Humira” but the statistical readout was not reliable enough to count as evidence.

The Swiss group said that Cosentyx, its second-bestselling drug with $2.8 billion in revenue last year, “narrowly missed statistical significance for superiority” over Humira, a drug made by AbbVie..

Cosentyx is already approved for use in psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis and other conditions, and a clear win over auto-immune disease treatment Humira would have boosted its sales prospects.

Still, Novartis said it hoped the full trial data on easing symptoms such as tender or swollen joints, to be disclosed later at a medical conference, would convince physicians.

“We view the results as confirming our vision of Cosentyx becoming standard of care in psoriatic arthritis,” said Eric Hughes, the company’s head of development in immunology, hepatology and dermatology.

The drugmaker has said it believes its product could achieve peak annual sales of $4 billion to $5 billion thanks to its broad potential.

Abbvie’s Humira, in turn, chalked up close to $20 billion in sales in 2018, but the drug has come under fire from cheap rivals in Europe and faces a loss of patent protection in the United States in 2023.

Novartis stock was little changed at 86.14 Swiss francs at 0910 GMT.

Psoriatic arthritis affects around 50 million people worldwide.

This week U.S. regulators halted a trial of Novartis’s Zolgensma treatment after an animal study raised safety concerns.

In other setbacks, Novartis’s heart failure drug Entresto failed a trial in a new use, the Swiss drugmaker said in July, calling into question billions of dollars in potential revenue and taking the shine off one of the company’s biggest growth prospects.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger and John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields and David Evans