BARCELONA (Reuters) - The expected launch of Novartis's new heart failure drug next year promises to be the company's most exciting ever and profit margins on the medicine will be good, its head of pharmaceuticals said on Sunday.
The Swiss drugmaker impressed doctors at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona at the weekend by unveiling strikingly good clinical trial results for the drug, known as LCZ696, in a keenly awaited clinical trial.
Investigators working on the study and the company itself believe it has potential to replace drugs that have been central to treating heart failure for a quarter of century, opening up a multibillion-dollar sales opportunity.
"It will be possibly the most exciting launch the company has ever had," David Epstein told an investor meeting.
The profitability of the drug would also be higher than Novartis achieved when its blockbuster hypertension medicine Diovan was still patent-protected, since the cost of marketing LCZ696 will be lower. That reflects the more specialized nature of heart failure, which requires a smaller sales force.
As a result, LCZ696 should become profitable relatively quickly, though Novartis will be investing to ensure a strong launch. Epstein said he did not expect any increase in the overall sales force because staff would be switched from promoting some older drugs.
In a research note issued by investment bank Leerink on the back of the strong trial results, analyst Seamus Fernandez said that LCZ696 could rack up annual sales of $6-8 billion, with further upside in emerging markets and from new indications.
The study unveiled in Barcelona targeted heart patients with reduced ejection fraction, where the heart muscle does not contract effectively. However, Novartis is also starting a trial in a similar-sized group with preserved ejection fraction, where the ventricles do not relax as they should.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Goodman)