Johnson & Johnson would be just fine without Zytiga, executives insist as patent decision looms

Johnson & Johnson's pharma segment posted 6.7% growth in the third quarter to $10.3 billion. (J&J)

Zytiga may be dependable growth fuel right now, but if a patent fight doesn't go Johnson & Johnson's way, that could change. Maybe that's why execs took pains Tuesday to show that their third-quarter pharma sales would have been just fine without the prostate cancer drug.

Johnson & Johnson is awaiting a court ruling in a patent battle over the blockbuster drug, and a 30-month stay holding off generics expires later this month. Meanwhile, in the third quarter, J&J's pharma division grew sales 6.7% to $10.3 billion. Without currency effects, sales were up 8.2%. And without Zytiga, operational growth came in at 6.6%, execs said on a conference call.

"While we're pleased with Zytiga, we're absolutely not dependent on it," J&J's pharmaceutical chairman Jennifer Taubert told analysts.

The unit's performance bested J&J's consumer healthcare and medical devices, which posted a 1.8% sales increase and 0.2% decrease, respectively, for the quarter.

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So far this year, Zytiga sales are up 55% globally. Nearly half of the drug's sales come from outside the U.S., a factor that would limit the damage to J&J if it ends up facing near-term U.S. competition.

Elsewhere in the pharma unit, multiple myeloma drug Darzalex posted a 57% global sales increase during the quarter to $498 million. Sales for Imbruvica, a drug for multiple blood cancers J&J shares with AbbVie, jumped 38% to $705 million globally in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, J&J continues to aggressively market Remicade against biosimilar competition. The immunology blockbuster holds 93% market share, execs said, but because J&J is competing on price, sales fell 18.2% in the U.S. to $987 million in the third quarter. Globally, sales for the drug are down about 16% so far this year, but Remicade remains J&J's top-selling drug.

On newer drugs, J&J is in the early stages of the launch for prostate cancer drug Erleada, and the company hopes to win an approval for esketamine for treatment-resistant depression. 

Zytiga isn't the only generic threat J&J has on the horizon, though. The company expects to face generic competition to anemia drug Procrit and pulmonary arterial hypertension drug Tracleer this quarter, Chief Financial Officer Joe Wolk told analysts. Together, the drugs pulled in more than $700 million in the U.S. through the first nine months. Despite those challenges, management said the breadth of J&J’s portfolio will enable the company to produce above-market growth in future years.