Earnings

Novartis predicts 2020 growth as Cosentyx, Zolgensma add to sales

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Key Points
  • Core net income rose to $2.99 billion while sales rose 9% to $12.4 billion. 
  • For 2020, the Swiss drugmaker expects net sales to grow in the mid-to high-single-digit percentage range, with core operating income expected to grow in the high-single to low-double-digit percentages.
  • Novartis hit its full-year 2019 target of high single-digit sales growth and rising profits.
The Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
Arnd Wiegmann | Reuters

Novartis's fourth-quarter core net income rose 13% in constant currencies, helped as its new Zolgensma gene therapy gained traction and five-year-old drugs Cosentyx and Entresto added to their blockbuster status.

Core net income rose to $2.99 billion while sales rose 9% to $12.4 billion.

For 2020, the Swiss drugmaker expects net sales to grow in the mid-to high-single-digit percentage range, with core operating income expected to grow in the high-single to low-double-digit percentages.

Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan got help from new therapies like Zolgensma, launched in May at a $2.1 million-per-patient list price, as well as Cosentyx, his psoriasis and arthritis drug which has replaced decade-old Gilenya as Novartis's top-selling medicine. For the company's main drugs business, the core margin improved to 33.5% of sales, Novartis said.

"We really felt like it was an exceptional year, really captured by the exceptional fourth quarter," Narasimhan told CNBC's Julianna Tatelbaum in Basel, Switzerland on Wednesday.

Novartis hit its full-year 2019 target of high single-digit sales growth and rising profits.

Cosentyx's sales for the 12-month period rose 28% to $3.6 billion, heart drug Entresto was up 71% to $1.7 billion and Zolgensma for spinal muscular atrophy hit $361 million.

When asked about the Swiss pharmaceutical giant's environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, Narasimhan replied: "I think overall, we are on the right track."

"We did our first-ever ESG investor day which I attended. We had all of our investors come in and naturally, of course, there are questions (about) some of the setbacks that we had but I think when you look at the broad trends that they see at Novartis, I think they are seeing the right things."

"It is our job to keep that momentum going and keep demonstrating we are living by the words that we put out there," Narasimhan said.

— CNBC's Sam Meredith contributed to this report.