Novartis CEO 'fairly confident' Gilenya will top $1B

As Novartis CEO Joe Jiminez (photo) touted the newly approved MS treatment Gilenya on television yesterday, the company got another boost: A potential competitor for that drug was rejected by European regulators. "[I]t now looks like Novartis' Gilenya could reach a monopoly status in the oral MS drug segment in Europe," Kepler Capital analyst Taro Weckworth writes investors (as quoted by Reuters).

That's jumping the gun a bit, given that Gilenya hasn't yet won European approval, either (although the FDA's acceptance is a good sign). Jiminez, interviewed on Fox Business, was more conservative; he did express confidence that Gilenya would reach blockbuster status with $1 billion-plus in sales, but analysts had already upped their projections to $2.5 billion-plus. And when given a chance to suggest that patients on injectables should switch to the Gilenya pill, he demurred, saying patients should "have a good conversation" with their doctors.

Jiminez also resisted anchorwoman Liz Claman's efforts to draw criticism of President Obama, saying repeatedly that he and Novartis supported U.S. healthcare reform. "I think it's a step in the right direction," he said. He also praised the U.S. government's new R&D incentives, and, when Claman suggested that the president is anti-business, backed away fast. She had more luck on taxes; Jiminez agreed that higher taxes would be bad for Novartis.

Meanwhile, Novartis unloaded U.S. rights to its bladder treatment Enablex for $400 million, which analysts saw as a housecleaning move. And that could signal other divestments, Weckroth told Reuters: "We could expect further action in sub-scale businesses such as animal health and/or diagnostics."

- read the Novartis release
- see the Reuters story
- check out the Fox interview