Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG posted forecast-beating first-quarter sales on Tuesday, thanks to robust demand for its newest drugs, and said its key new multiple sclerosis pill was exceeding expectations.
Sales at the group, which has just wrapped up its buyout of U.S. eyecare firm Alcon, rose 14 percent in constant currencies to $14.03 billion, boosted by strong demand for recently launched drugs such as Gilenya, Lucentis, Exforge and Tasigna.
Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told reporters on a conference call that Gilenya, the first pill to treat the debilitating disease of multiple sclerosis, was already bringing in "significant revenues". First-quarter sales of the drug were $59 million.
Novartis shares were indicated to open 1.8 percent higher, according to pre-market data provided by bank Clariden Leu.
Jefferies analyst Jeff Holford said the results were "a good set of numbers".
"With a good Gilenya number, Alcon synergy expectations edged up and the share buyback now able to restart, we anticipate the shares moving better," he said.
The solid performance of Novartis' newest products helped the group to weather a $1.1 billion absence of pandemic flu sales from a year ago.
A number of Novartis's rivals are also facing a loss of sales from flu-related products and last week Roche reported a 47 percent slump in its Tamiflu sales.
Novartis said it still expects net sales to grow around the double-digit mark in 2011 and it is aiming to improve core operating income margin in constant currencies. But the group said it would have to absorb price cuts, generic competition and the loss of sales from the H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine.
Pharmaceutical companies across the globe are having to cope with healthcare reform in the United States and a push from cash-strapped governments in Europe to slash the prices of drugs, along with competition from cheaper generic drugs.
The Basel-based group said it had seen a negative pricing impact of 2 percentage points in its pharma division, mainly due to healthcare cost-containment measures.
Novartis reported first-quarter core earnings per share of $1.41, in line with the average analyst forecast in a Reuters poll of $1.40.
The group said Alcon contributed $1.9 billion of net sales in the first quarter.
Novartis is hoping the Alcon deal, worth some $51 billion in total, will help it diversify and give it protection against patent losses on big-selling medicines such as blood pressure drug Diovan.
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