Gilenya, Afinitor among bright spots in flat Novartis quarter

When it comes to news releases, CEOs can't control the conversation. No doubt Novartis ($NVS) Chief Joe Jimenez would like to tell reporters, "Diovan may be dying but our new drugs don't need therapy--Discuss."

But with regulators abuzz about flu vaccine particles--and analysts worried about the OTC plant in Lincoln, NE--the rest of the Swiss drugmaker's quarterly news is still waiting for its close-up.

So, here you go, Joe. Key drugs posted some impressive growth during the quarter, such as the multiple sclerosis treatment Gilenya, which took a 116% leap to $316 million. The eye drug Lucentis grew by 23% to $593 million. Cancer drugs Tasigna (49% to $707 million) and Afinitor (82% to $206 million) really shone.

All together, these four meds, along with others launched since 2007, contributed $29% of the group's net sales for the third quarter and first 9 months of the year, at $4 billion and $11.9 billion, respectively. For the pharma business, that helped take the sting out of Diovan's generic competition, which drew off 31% of its sales, leaving $1 billion.

Overall, Novartis sales fell by 7% to $13.8 billion, with operating income of $3.9 billion, down 5%. And that's without head-to-head generic competition for Diovan in the U.S. The FDA still hasn't approved a copycat version of the blood pressure drug; the franchise's losses in the U.S. this quarter came from copies of the combo drug Diovan HCT.

"Pharmaceuticals had another solid quarter," Jimenez said in a statement. Now if he can just fix the OTC division--and, maybe, escape generic Diovan in the U.S. a little longer--next quarter could be better.

- check out the Novartis release