Novartis eyes Japan for potential new use for Lucentis

Novartis ($NVS), whose blockbuster eye drug Lucentis has been fighting a price war with off-label use of Avastin, has data supporting a new indication for the drug and will take that with an application to Japan, a market Big Pharma is finding many ways to love.

The company this week said that new data found that an average of three Lucentis (ranibizumab) injections improved visual acuity in patients with myopic choroidal neovascularization (CNV), Pharma Times reports, and 29% of patients didn't need any treatment beyond an initial injection. The Swiss drug giant said it would take that data to the European Medicines Agency and to authorities in Japan by the end of the year.

Lucentis has been a major revenue generator for the company. It is producing annualized revenue of more than $2 billion already, Reuters points out. But it has been hitting some tough competition of late from doctors using Avastin off-label for treating wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Novartis recently offered an undisclosed discount to a cluster of healthcare providers in the U.K. who had insisted that Avastin was a better deal. They bit on the new price.

That Novartis, which markets the drug outside the U.S., wants to go to Japan as well as the EU with the new application is not a big surprise. While the EU has been tough on drug spending and some countries are cutting way back there, Japan is seen as a more promising market.

Regulatory reforms have speeded up new drug launches in a market notoriously slow at adopting treatments already in use elsewhere. The government's pricing policies have eased up. Meanwhile, the island nation's growing aging population is strengthening demand for drugs. Result? Fast-growing sales at a time when other regions are suffering.

Novartis has already said it intends to launch lots of new drugs there over the next few years. It already has a 4.4% market share and is in the top 10 but says it is shooting for being among the top three drug suppliers there.

- here's the PharmaTimes story
- get more from Reuters