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, 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.