Swine flu booster for Novartis

City A.M. Reporter
SWISS drugmaker Novartis is confident about meeting its 2010 goals after governments buying up its vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic lifted the group to forecast-beating first-quarter results.

Earnings per share rose to $1.29 (84p) in the first quarter, beating anaylysts estimates of $1.11, thanks also to strong sales of new blood pressure drugs Exforge and Tekturna, and cancer drugs Zometa and Femara.

Novartis repeated it expects group sales to grow at a mid-single-digit percentage rate in constant currencies this year, while sales at its pharmaceuticals division are seen growing at a mid- to high single-digit rate.

Chief executive Joe Jimenez, who took over from Daniel Vasella in February, said Novartis was not raising its 2010 sales growth target despite an 18 per cent rise in first-quarter sales as the strong flu vaccines shipments will dwindle throughout the rest of the year.

Pandemic flu vaccines boosted first-quarter sales by $1.1bn – about $400m above the group’s target at the beginning of the year, Novartis said.

“At a first glance, (the results were a) big beat versus consensus but mainly due to higher H1N1 flu vaccine sales,” analysts at Julius Baer said.

“Quality of the beat is therefore rather low and not sustainable.”

Novartis, which has agreed to buy a majority stake of eyecare group Alcon from Nestle SA for $28.1bn, will now go for smaller, bolt-on buys in its generics and vaccines and diagnostics units, Jimenez told reporters.

The comments come after Novartis snapped up privately held US company Oriel Therapeutics to boost its generics portfolio in the multibillion-dollar market for respiratory drugs.