Novartis hopes new COPD study data will draw patients from Glaxo's Advair


Novartis' generic of Advair in Europe is already a thorn in GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) side when it comes to sales of the declining blockbuster. Now, it says, another of its lung drugs has turned out positive study data that show its non-inferiority to Glaxo's top seller in COPD, and with its more convenient dosing regimen, it could prompt patients on Advair to make the switch.

In the study, Novartis ($NVS) switched patients on Seretide, as Advair is know outside the U.S., over to its Onbrez Breezhaler, a once-daily treatment for the respiratory disease. In those with moderate COPD and no recent exacerbations, Onbrez proved no worse at helping lung function at week 12 than Glaxo's treatment, which requires two doses each day.

"These positive results help inform the switch from salmeterol/fluticasone (Advair) to Onbrez Breezhaler in patients with moderate COPD and who are at low risk of exacerbations. This confirms that Onbrez Breezhaler provides an effective maintenance treatment option for these patients," said Tim Wright, Novartis Pharmaceuticals' global head of development, said in a statement.

Onbrez' sales pale in comparison to the $8.25 billion Advair generated last year. Novartis' drug, approved in more than 100 countries, brought in just $192 million in 2013 even after swelling 47% since 2012. But it's just another drag on a product whose dominance is waning, especially in Europe, where sales dipped 2% to £1.5 billion ($2.4 billion) last year. That's without the impact of Sandoz generic AirFluSal Forspiro, which has nabbed approval in a handful of countries since gaining EU approval in December.

That's not to say things are easy for Advair in the U.S. Though sales there jumped 8% last year, the respiratory behemoth ceded market share to competitors Symbicort from AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Dulera from Merck ($MRK). And the FDA is currently helping generics makers bring their copies to market, a feat Advair's difficult-to-copy inhaler technology has so far prevented.

But Glaxo has backup. Last month, it touted its own new COPD data, which showed that the not-yet-launched blockbuster hopeful Anoro Ellipta achieved statistically significant improvement in lung function over its aging giant.

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