UPDATED: Novartis slows Gleevec bleeding to manage Q3 beats amid Alcon's downward spiral

Novartis has tapped new meds Cosentyx and Entresto to fill the void as generics gnaw at blockbuster cancer-fighter Gleevec and troubled eye unit Alcon continues to flounder. Those meds didn’t pull their weight in the third quarter, but luckily, the company’s Gleevec defense saved the day.

The under-fire blood cancer blockbuster managed to pull in $123 million more than analysts expected thanks to “shrewd contracting,” as Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson put it in a note to clients, and its performance propelled Novartis’ pharma unit to a forecast-beating $8.17 billion in sales.

Psoriasis treatment Cosentyx and heart failure therapy Entresto, on the other hand, were “a bit light.” The former pulled in $301 million versus the $315 million analysts expected, while the latter netted $53 million to fall short of $58 million predictions.

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Anderson, though, expects to see things turn around for Entresto. In July, Novartis announced it would plow an extra $200 million into the drug’s marketing, and now, it’s “seeing greater uptake, albeit gradually,” Anderson noted. That’s “what we expect will continue to occur.”

For Alcon, though, the prognosis isn’t nearly as sunny. The unit declined by 3% in constant currencies, with its surgical division “still looking for the bottom” and vision care remaining flat.

“Investors will continue to ask where the green shoots of recovery will emerge,” Anderson said.

Generics arm Sandoz didn’t have much to contribute, either, with industrywide price erosion taking its toll on the knockoffs behemoth and negating a 5% volume expansion over last year’s Q3.

Overall, though, Novartis came up with an EPS beat, channeling cost-control measures to get there. EPS of $1.23 surpassed consensus estimates by 3 cents.

And going forward, the pharma giant doesn’t expect any of Q3’s slips to take its guidance off track. It’s predicting 2016 net sales to come in “broadly in line” with last year’s, buoyed by $200 million in Entresto revenue. "Everything that we're seeing continues to reinforce our belief in this drug," CEO Joe Jimenez told investors on a conference call.

As for Cosentyx? It's "on track to deliver blockbuster status by year-end," Jimenez said.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from the company's Q3 conference call.

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