Novartis Gets Lift From $2.1 Million Gene Therapy Zolgensma

Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NOVN.S) boosted its 2019 forecasts on Tuesday after beating third-quarter expectations, a feat helped by the sales debut of gene therapy Zolgensma, the world’s most expensive one-time treatment.

CEO Vas Narasimhan’s bet on the potential cure for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has drawn scrutiny, initially due to its $2.1 million price and since August over a data manipulation scandal that has prompted a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation.

But Zolgensma sales in the third quarter netted Novartis $160 million, half from patients switching from another therapy, Narasimhan said.

“We’re very pleased with the uptake,” Narasimhan told reporters on a call.

The only other approved drug for the genetic disease SMA is Spinraza from Biogen (BIIB.O), which reports third-quarter results on Tuesday and is expected to show an impact after Zolgensma sales began following its approval in May.

Novartis reported a 17% rise in third-quarter core net income to $3.2 billion.

Sales rose 13% at constant exchange rates to $12.2 billion, topping the $11.7 billion average in a Refinitiv poll, helped by higher sales of psoriasis medicine Cosentyx and heart drug Entresto.

Novartis said now expects its overall annual sales to grow by a high single-digit percentage, raising a “mid-to-high single-digit” forecast made in July.

Core operating income is forecast to growth by mid- to high-teen percent, up from a previous expectation for low double-digit to mid-teen percentage growth. – Reuters

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