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Novartis overtakes Pfizer as top drug company


By Michael Sandler
Posted: April 13, 2014 - 12:01 am ET
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A robust sales year for three of Novartis' medications allowed the firm to pass reeling Pfizer for the top spot on Modern Healthcare's annual list of largest publicly traded pharmaceutical companies.

Pfizer, its sales still tumbling from the loss of patent protection on its blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, saw its sales decline to $51.6 billion last year, down 5.6% from 2012. Lipitor sales fell to $2.3 billion in 2013, down 41% from $3.9 billion in 2012 and down 76% $9.6 billion in 2011.

But at Novartis, Galvus, a treatment for Type 2 diabetes, reached $1.2 billion in sales in 2013, said Eric Althoff, Novartis' head of global media relations. He also credited Afinitor, a cancer drug, and Gilenya, a treatment for multiple sclerosis. Both grew by 60% last year. Overall, Novartis' net sales grew 2.3% to $57.9 billion, up from $56.6 billion in 2012.

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Novartis isn't relying only on advancing sales to enhance its bottom line. The company registered productivity gains worth $2.8 billion in 2013, Althoff said, which allowed it to step up its investment in research and development. That could pay off in future years if the company succeeds in bringing innovative new medicines to patients.

Novartis also faces the challenge of losing patents, but Althoff said that can be offset by the company's broad portfolio, spanning from branded drugs to generics. He also said Novartis' ability to share knowledge across business divisions, particularly in research and development, offsets generic erosion.

“This has allowed Sandoz, Novartis' generics unit, to become a leader in the biosimilars space, thanks to the ability to leverage the full strength of the Novartis Group,” Althoff said.

Follow Michael Sandler on Twitter: @MHmsandler


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