Novartis Enters "Good Cholesterol" Battle

Entering the race for what could become the drug industry’s biggest market, Novartis has partnered with a tiny, unknown biotech to develop a promising drug that would clear the arteries using HDL, or "good cholesterol." The project puts Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis (nyse: NVS - news - people ) on a collision course with rivals Pfizer (nyse: PFE - news - people ) and Roche. Pfizer's experimental HDL-raising pill torcetrapib, expected to hit the market in three years, could become the biggest drug ever if it works, with sales that could drive the firm's cholesterol franchise past $15 billion, many analysts say. Pfizer is paying $800 million for late-stage tests of torcetrapib, the biggest such sum ever. It's hoped that such drugs could further cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, which kill 900,000 people in the United States annually. But Novartis' medicine, licensed from closely held Bruin Pharmaceuticals, takes an entirely different approach than the Pfizer and Roche drugs. The drug is a modified piece of HDL. Unlike similar drugs, which must be injected, it can be taken by mouth. If Pfizer and Roche were to fail, it could be next at bat, and it is likely to find a place even if those drugs succeed, says Tom Hughes, global head of diabetes and metabolism at Novartis.

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