Note: All changes are versus the prior-year period unless otherwise stated
"Growth drivers and launches continued their strong momentum with double-digit growth for Entresto, Cosentyx, oncology growth drivers and Zolgensma," remarked CEO Vas Narasimhan. The executive added "we expect Sandoz performance to stabilise, in the near-term, after a challenging quarter," during which it was affected by a "historically weak" cough and cold season because of social-distancing measures.
Aside from Sandoz, Novartis explained that the COVID-19 pandemic also continued to cause disruption in several markets during the first quarter, particularly affecting dermatology, ophthalmology, the breast cancer portfolio and anti-infectives. Narasimhan indicated that apart from oncology treatment, demand for healthcare has now returned to normal levels in the US and China, and has been recovering in Europe in the past couple of months.
Novartis reaffirmed that it expects sales to rise this year by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage in constant currencies, while core operating income is projected to grow in the mid-single digits, ahead of sales. The company added that innovative medicine sales are forecast to make mid-single-digit gains in 2021 as well, with Sandoz revenue declining in the low- to mid-single digits, revised from broadly in line.
The drugmaker said its guidance assumes "a return to normal global healthcare systems including prescription dynamics by mid-2021." Analysts predict sales of $52.1 billion for the year on adjusted profit of $6.35 per share.
Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans noted that "while this was a slightly disappointing quarter for Novartis, particularly in the generics segment, key drugs Entresto, Cosentyx and Zolgensma all grew by more than 10% and their sales results beat expectations."
Novartis said that the Phase III PARADISE-MI study investigating Entresto in a head-to-head comparison with ramipril failed to meet its primary composite endpoint of reducing risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure events after an acute myocardial infarction. The company noted that numerical trends "consistently" favoured Entresto, adding that top-line results will be presented at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Annual Scientific Session.
The company also said a large-scale UK study of its RNAi-based PCSK9 inhibitor Leqvio to lower cholesterol is now not expected to be completed until 2026, a year later than expected. "With the impact of COVID-19 in the UK, recruitment has been challenging," commented John Tsai, Novartis' head of drug development, adding that trial enrolment is now "starting to get back on track."
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