Novartis chief Jimenez predicts 'multi-blockbuster' success for star heart drug

Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez

Novartis' ($NVS) pharma chief has hailed the company's forthcoming heart failure treatment as "the most exciting launch the company has ever had," and now the drugmaker's CEO has declared a "multi-blockbuster" in the making, joining a chorus of analysts who expect billions in annual sales from LCZ696.

Speaking to reporters on an earnings call, Novartis Chief Joe Jimenez backed away from starry estimates of up to $10 billion in annual sales for the treatment, which combines the well-established Diovan with a new entity called sacubitril. But he wasn't shy about proclaiming LCZ696 potential to become Novartis' best selling drug.

"Even though it's early, the data would support this drug being a multi-blockbuster," Jimenez said, according to Reuters. "I've seen estimates of somewhere between $2 and $5 billion, and I think if you look at the data ... I believe it should fall in that ballpark."

Those data include Phase III results in which LCZ696 reduced the risk of cardiovascular death by 20% compared to the generic blood pressure drug enalapril. Patients on Novartis' treatment also experienced 21% fewer hospitalizations and a 16% improvement in all-cause mortality, highly statistically significant results.

Now Novartis plans to file an FDA application for its twice-a-day pill by the end of this year, with a European submission scheduled for early 2015. If all goes according to plan, the Swiss drugmaker could be reaping some of that projected blockbuster success by the end of next year.

And for Novartis' cardiovascular unit, the timing couldn't be better. Diovan, long the business' cash cow, is enduring the thousand cuts of generic competition, with sales falling 20% to $3.5 billion last year. And one of the company's ordained successors, the acute heart failure drug serelaxin, endured rejections from U.S. and EU regulators this year, forcing pharma giant to put off any plans for a near-term launch for a treatment once expected to peak at more than $1 billion a year.

Novartis, the industry's largest employer, says it has no plans to take its foot off the gas in R&D, keeping the pace on a $10-billion-a-year research budget with hopes of cranking out 14 blockbusters by 2018. In oncology, Novartis is confident in its pioneering work in CAR-T immunotherapies--in which a patient's own cells mount an attack on cancer--and the company is expecting Phase III results on the breast cancer treatment LEE011 by year's end. And the company is nearing a first FDA approval for secukinumab, an anti-inflammatory treatment with applications in psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

- read the Reuters story

Special Report: The top 15 late-stage blockbusters in the pipeline - LCZ696, Novartis

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