By Katharina Bart
ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis is to seek approval later this year in Europe and Japan for a new combination lung drug to treat so-called smoker's cough after it met expectations in final trials, the Swiss firm said on Thursday.
The drug, QVA149, combines Novartis's Onbrez and its other lung drug NVA237 as a two-in-one medicine that should allow Novartis to take on market leader GlaxoSmithKline. An application for approval in the United States is set to be filed at the end of next year, Novartis said.
However, Bank Vontobel analyst Andrew Weiss said that although Novartis showed the drug to be superior to another of its own drugs, QVA149 is not significantly better than Spiriva, a rival drug from Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim in treating patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
COPD causes breathing trouble and chronic coughing, and is sometimes fatal. It affects an estimated 210 million people worldwide and is predicted to be the third leading cause of death by 2020, Novartis said.
"Without superiority to Spiriva, we doubt this data will give QVA an edge," said Weiss, who rates Novartis shares as a 'reduce' with a 50-franc target price.
Novartis and its British partner Vectura faced delays in October last year in the United States for NVA237, which in turn affected the approval timing for QVA149.
Shares in Novartis were trading unchanged at 56.55 francs by 0846 GMT on Thursday, when Vectura's shares were down 0.6 percent at 82 pence.
Novartis needs drugs such as QVA149, which some analysts predict could be a major revenue earner by 2020, to fill the gap left by loss of exclusivity on its current top-selling drugs such as blood pressure medicine Diovan.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)