Future For Novartis Hypertension Drug Is Bleak

Future For Novartis Hypertension Drug Is Bleak

December 22nd, 2011 // 1:59 pm @

There is an old saying that it is a short drop from the penthouse to the pavement. Consider Tekturna, a high-blood pressure drug that Novartis was hoping to transform into a blockbuster. Known as Rasilez in Europe, the pill was launched four years ago and faces stiff competition from older meds, some of which are available as low-cost generics.

So Novartis was studying Tekturna to determine whether its pill could protect patients with type 2 diabetes and renal impairment, who are known to be at high risk of developing cardiovascular and kidney problems. But a trial of some 8,600 patients called Altitude, in which Tekturna was added to standard therapy, was a bust. There was evidence of an increased incidence of non-fatal stroke, renal complications, hyperkalemia and hypotension (here is the Novartis statement).

As a result, the drugmaker is ending all promotion of any medication that includes Tekturna, which means sales are going to take a big hit. Through the first nine months of the year, Tekturna generated $449 million, which represented just 1 percent of overall revenue, but the drug was already unprofitable, due in part to high costs for the active pharmaceutical ingredient, according to Leerink Swann analyst Seamus Fernandez.

This is a far cry from the $1 billion blockbuster potential that was once forecast. Consequently, Novartis may eliminate up to 1,000 sales reps in the US, according to a Deutsche Bank report cited by Dow Jones. The drugmaker has already laid off about 2,000 people, including 1,400 US reps, over the past two years (see this).

“As we see it, there are three obvious options,” write Fernandez in an investor note. “Remove the drug from the market and discontinue all studies for safety reasons; continue to market a potentially hobbled and likely unprofitable franchise, or sell all rights… Since we see little reason to continue marketing a product that could be associated with harm in a large patient population, the fastest option would be removal from the market, while the best outcome likely would be a successful sale of the franchise.”

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