Data aids Novartis push to replace Gleevec with Tasigna

What does a drugmaker do when a huge drug is edging toward that patent cliff? It pushes another branded med as a replacement for that soon-to-go-generic treatment--and crosses its fingers in hopes that the strategy works.

It helps if that replacement drug is actually better than the treatment it's trying to succeed, of course. Which is why Novartis is no doubt cheering the results of a new study showing that its cancer drug Tasigna bested its older treatment Gleevec. In 18-month results from a leukemia study, Tasigna slowed down the disease better than Gleevec did.

Coupled with a previous study in which Tasigna beat Gleevec at arresting disease progression over 12 months, the data has industry watchers betting that Novartis may have a win. "The patent for Gleevec expires in 2015," Silvia Schanz, a pharma analyst at Vontobel, tells Dow Jones, "and the 18-month test-comparison data suggests Tasigna has the potential to succeed Gleevec."

That's great news for Novartis: Gleevec is its second best-selling drug with some $4 billion in 2009 sales. And this data comes at an opportune time, as Reuters notes; at ASCO this weekend, we'll see results of a head-to-head study pitting Gleevec against Bristol-Myers Squibb's Sprycel treatment. Should Sprycel beat out Gleevec, it'll be Tasigna vs. Sprycel toe to toe.

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