New drugs help maintain Novartis Q3 profit

GENEVA -- Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG posted flat third quarter profits as new drugs offset patent expirations.

The Basel-based company said Thursday that its net profit of $2.48 billion in the July-September quarter was virtually unchanged from the $2.49 billion recorded in the same period last year.

But sales fell 7 percent to $13.8 billion francs, from $14.8 billion, as the company suffered from the Sept. 21 loss of the U.S. patent on its blockbuster hypertension drug Diovan and a 13 percent decline in net sales at its Sandoz generic division.

Novartis said that its recent product launches had offset patent expirations such as Diovan, which faces generic competition in the United States.

"Pharmaceuticals had another solid quarter," chief executive Joseph Jimenez said.

He said the results were helped by approvals for Afinitor for treating advanced breast cancer, which the company expects to help push sales of the drug above the $1 billion mark.

Novartis confirmed its outlook for 2012, saying the strong U.S. dollar is expected to cut 3-4 percent from its full-year sales if September's average exchange rates "prevail for the remainder of the year."

Also Thursday, the company issued a separate statement that it still had "confidence in the safety and efficacy of its seasonal influenza vaccines Agrippal and Fluad manufactured in Italy."

A day earlier, Italy's health ministry banned the sale of four Novartis flu drugs for possible side-effects. Switzerland's regulator, Swissmedic, also suspended deliveries of flu vaccines from Novartis as a preventive measure against possible contamination.