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Positive ASCO Updates from Novartis

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Pipeline updates are highly awaited events in the pharma/biotech sector as they play an important role in deciding whether or not to invest in a particular company. These updates provide information on experimental drugs and at times give an insight into the commercial potential of the candidate once it is successfully developed and commercialized.

Novartis (NVS) recently presented positive results from a pivotal phase III study, PANORAMA-1, on LBH589 at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (TATD). The results from the study showed that LBH589 in combination with Velcade and Decadron showed a 37% improvement in progression-free survival (PFS) among patients suffering from relapsed or relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma as compared to treatment with the same regimen with placebo in patients.

Consequently, the study met its primary endpoint. We note that the candidate was granted priority review status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (:FDA). 

The successful development and commercialization of LBH589 will bode well for Novartis as Zometa, indicated for multiple myeloma, is facing generic competition following patent expiration in 2013.

Novartis also announced positive data on oncology drug Zykadia from a phase I study at the ASCO. It was observed in the study that Zykadia was effective in shrinking tumors in patients suffering from anaplastic lymphoma kinase-positive (ALK+) non-small cell lung cancer (:NSCLC). The study included both treatment experienced and treatment naïve patients.

This study is part of the ongoing Novartis clinical trial program in this patient population. We note that Zykadia received approval from the FDA in Apr 2014 for the treatment of patients with ALK+ metastatic NSCLC who have progressed on or are intolerant to Pfizer's (PFE) Xalkori (crizotinib).

We are encouraged by the encouraging data presented at ASCO by Novartis. We cautiously watch Novartis' efforts to realign its portfolio in order to focus on its core business of pharmaceuticals, eye care and generics. We believe the recent acquisition of oncology products from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and divestment of Vaccines business is a step in the right direction.

Novartis currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Investors looking for better-ranked stocks may consider companies like Allergan (AGN) with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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