Swiss drugmaker Novartis expects to withstand competition from cheaper copies of its drugs after it posted forecast-beating second-quarter sales helped by its newest products.

Novartis, which has a better track record than most rivals in bringing new drugs to market, hit an upbeat note on Tuesday about its recently launched multiple sclerosis pill Gilenya, which raked in $79 million from April to June.

Gilenya is turning out to be one of the most successful new product launches, Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told reporters.

The group also said sales of Tasigna, which is being billed as a replacement for older drug Glivec to treat a life-threatening type of blood cancer, rose 79 percent, while demand for eye drug Lucentis was also strong.

Sales rose 27 percent, or 19 percent in constant currencies, to $14.9 billion, ahead of a poll average of $14.7 billion, while sales volume at the key pharma unit rose 8 percent.

Like many other drugmakers, Novartis is starting to face generic competition as its breast cancer drug Femara and its blood pressure medicine Diovan lose patent protection.

But the group's newest products as well as its diversified strategy mean Novartis is well placed to deal with the looming patent cliff.

In an interview with Reuters Insider television, Jimenez said the drugmaker's recent $51 billion buy of eyecare group Alcon as well its Sandoz unit, which itself makes generic drugs, would also allow Novartis to navigate the loss of patents.

Sales of Diovan slipped 3 percent to $1.5 billion, but Novartis said the drug has held on to its position as the top-selling branded anti-hypertensive medication in the world. Femara sales tumbled 29 percent.

I do expect, because we have a broad portfolio across many geographies and many different segments of healthcare, to be able to fully compensate for patent expiration going forward, Jimenez said in the interview.

Novartis shares, which have underperformed the sector so far this year, were up 3.7 percent at 1007 GMT, outperforming a 0.3 percent rise in the European healthcare index <.SXDP>.

This is a solid result that should provide investors with confidence in Novartis' abilities to manage its upcoming patent hits through both new product growth and underlying productivity improvements, Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note.

On the other side of the Atlantic, investors will also focus on the newest medicines at Johnson & Johnson when the diversified healthcare group posts its second-quarter results later on Tuesday.

Investors are hopeful that drugs like Zytiga and Edurant will revive J&J's long-underperforming pharmaceuticals business.


Novartis, which kicked off the big pharma earnings season with a 23 percent rise in second quarter core earnings per share to $1.48, also confirmed its full-year guidance.

It expects group sales to grow around the double-digit mark in constant currencies and sees volume growth in its pharma unit in the low- to mid-single digit range, while its core operating margin in constant currencies should also improve.

Novartis, which has trimmed jobs as part of a cost-cutting drive, saw its core operating margin rise 0.4 percentage points year-on-year to 28.4 percent in the second quarter despite the sharp rise in the Swiss franc.

Jimenez said Basel-based Novartis would not be passive in the face of the strong franc, which has shot from one record to another against the euro and the dollar this year.

We have to look at ways to better align our cost base with our revenue base. That means reducing our costs in Switzerland and better aligning them with euro land and also with the U.S. dollar, Jimenez told Reuters Insider.

We will not be victims. We are going to take action to make sure we that we can offset the effect of the currency, he said, adding this could include measures such as buying raw materials and goods and services in euros or dollars for its Swiss site.

Investors will eye results from cross-town rival Roche on Thursday, as well as earnings from Swiss biotech group Actelion , for more insight into how the franc is impacting Swiss players.

Novartis also said it was lifting the restriction that limits the payment of dividends to 35-60 percent of net income, in a sign the group is willing to give more cash back to its shareholders.

(Editing by Sophie Walker and Mike Nesbit)