Novartis drug may give new life to heart patients

Written by Reuters | Barcelona | Updated: Aug 31 2014, 06:05am hrs
A new heart failure drug from Novartis cut the risk of both cardiovascular death and hospitalisation by a fifth in a keenly awaited study, boosting hopes for a product that is seen as a multi-billion-dollar seller.

There has been little progress for more than a decade in treating chronic heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body, so there is excitement about the new medicine among both doctors and investors.

The study, comparing LCZ696 to an older drug already known to improve survival, was stopped early five months ago because the benefit to patients was overwhelmingly positivebut the size of the effect was only disclosed on Saturday at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), the worlds largest cardiology congress.

ESC officials flagged the Paradigm-HF trial as one of the highlights of the five-day event in Barcelona, reflecting the pressing need to find better treatments than the current line-up of old generic medicines.

Everything has been pretty stalled in heart failure, said Keith Fox, a cardiologist at the University of Edinburgh who also chairs the ESCs congress programme committee.

Novartis is looking to LCZ696 to revive its fortunes as the blood pressure pill Diovan faces generic competition. As a result, the data on the product is widely viewed as the most important catalyst for the stock over the remainder of 2014.

This result is better than we ever could have anticipated, the companys pharmaceuticals head David Epstein told Reuters.

In addition to reducing deaths and hospital admissions, the drug also made patients feel measurably better, underscoring the case for it to replace existing treatments and bolstering expectations for multi-billion-dollar sales, he said. In the studythe largest ever undertaken in heart failure, involving more than 8,400 patientsLCZ696 was tested against enalapril, a so-called ACE inhibitor drug.

Patients who took LCZ696 were 20% less likely than those on enalapril to die of cardiovascular causes and were also 21% less likely to be admitted to hospital, according to results presented at congress and also published online by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The relative risk reduction for a composite of both, which was the primary measure for the trial, was also 20%. Industry analysts had been expecting a risk reduction with LCZ696 of between 15% and the low 20%.