Novartis planning four new cancer drugs: Oncology president says

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David Epstein, president of Novartis Oncology, said he hopes the drug maker will be able to start selling four new cancer treatments by the year 2011.


In an interview published in The Wall Street Journal, Epstein said he believes at least one of four Novartis pipeline cancer drugs could eventually achieve blockbuster status, with sales of $1 billion or more annually, if they are approved by the FDA.

The first new cancer drug Novartis aims to market is RAD001, Epstein said. The drug is being tested against endocrine tumors and renal-cell cancer.


Epstein said Novartis plans to report positive data on the RAD001's effectiveness against lymphoma at the American Society of Hematology meeting being held in Atlanta on Dec. 8-Dec.11.


Other Novartis oncology drug hopefuls include ASA404 for non-small-cell lung cancer, SOM230 for a rare group of neuroendocrine tumors and LBH589 for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Novartis and its UK biotech partner hit a snag in July when ASA404 failed in human tests against ovarian cancer.


Novartis's Gleevec, a treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), is the drugmaker's top–selling cancer drug and second-best selling product overall with sales of $2.55 billion in 2006.


In October, Novartis won FDA approval to start selling Tasigna, a drug for CML patients who fail to respond to Gleevec. Novartis also plans to report data at this week's American Society of Hematology meeting showing that patients newly diagnosed with the disease respond positively to Tasigna.


Novartis's focus on oncology products could eventually help the company recover from some of the hits suffered by key products in 2007. 


Zelnorm sales fell 80% after the company was forced to pull the irritable bowel treatment from the market in March due to safety concerns. And generic competition caught up to Lamisil, Lotrel and Famivir. Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes drug Galvus, was delayed at the FDA.


Following poor third-quarter earnings results, the drugmaker announced it was eliminating 1,260 jobs from its US sales and marketing unit and replacing its head of pharmaceuticals.

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