Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis (NVS) said Thursday it is discontinuing studies of an experimental lung cancer drug because of disappointing trial results. The company said it will shift its focus to other cancer treatments in early and late-stage development instead.

The late-stage trial results show that the drug, ASA404 (vadimezan), a tumor-vascular disrupting agent, failed to meet the primary endpoint of extending survival rates of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. The patients took the Novartis drug in combination with chemotherapy after they experienced disease progression on or following an initial chemotherapy regimen.

The Basel-based company will also incur impairment charges of approximately $120 million in the fourth quarter 2010.

Novartis said it does not plan to proceed with regulatory filings based on these data.

Novartis, like many other pharmaceuticals, is facing a patent cliff where its top sellers will lose patent protection and have to compete with cheaper generics. Specifically, its best-seller Diovan, a high blood pressure drug, faces patent expiration next year. Diovan had $6 billion in sales last year.

The halting of this drug program is a blow to lung cancer patients -- the most common lethal cancer -- and to Novartis itself. In October, Novartis announced that it had discontinued the development of two other drugs -- a hepatitis C treatment, and an antifungal agent -- as part of its ongoing efforts to restructure its portfolio. However, just recently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Novartis's treatment Gilenya -- the first oral drug for multiple sclerosis, which could easily become a blockbuster.

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