Novartis sees blood cancer drug as blockbuster

ZURICH Tue Mar 15, 2011 11:10pm IST

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis AG's blood cancer drug INC424 could rake in annual sales of $1 billion, the group's head of oncology told Reuters on Tuesday, in a boost to the Swiss drugmaker's cancer pipeline.

"We believe it can become a very reasonable commercial opportunity" said Herve Hoppenot, president of Novartis Oncology.

Earlier on Tuesday, Novartis said a late-stage trial had shown INC424, which Novartis is developing with Incyte, significantly reduced the spleen size of patients with myelofibrosis (MF) when compared with the best available therapy.

MF is a rare condition in which abnormal bone marrow stem cells are produced, resulting in the growth of connective tissue fibers. A reduction in the spleen size is a measurement for clinical improvement in this disease.

Novartis, which has rights to the drug outside of the United States, is aiming for annual sales in MF of more than $500 million.

Revenue could rise to $1 billion if the use of the drug is widened to include other indications such as polycythemia vera (PV), a rare blood disorder that in a very small number of cases can progress to leukemia.

Novartis is aiming to launch the drug in 2012.

Novartis shares closed 1.2 percent weaker after paring some of the days earlier losses.

Novartis said the results supported results from another Phase III trial conducted by Incyte, which said in December it expects to launch the drug by the end of 2011.

Incyte said on Tuesday its U.S. new drug application submission was on track for the second quarter of the year.

The drug -- a janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor -- belongs to the same class as Pfizer's high-profile experimental medicine tofacitinib, which is being developed for the bigger market in treating rheumatoid arthritis and is one of the most important in the U.S. company's pipeline.

"INC424 is highly synergistic with Novartis's hematology franchise based on Glivec and follow-on drug, Tasigna, and as such is set to leverage the substantial profit generation of this all-important product line," Helvea analysts said in a note.

"We currently carry $660 million peak sales in our model although the potential of the drug in the Novartis territories could be well in excess of $1 billion as we believe that MF and PV remain substantially under-diagnosed," the analysts said.

(Editing by Hans Peters and Andrew Callus)

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