(Adds comments from the CEO, share price)
By Sabina Zawadzki
COPENHAGEN, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Danish insulin maker Novo Nordisk said it not expect significant pressure this year on its business in the United States, where rivals are fighting for its market share, after reporting on Friday a stronger fourth quarter than expected.
While French rival Sanofi said sales in its U.S. diabetes segment would stall this year due to price competition, Novo Nordisk appeared less concerned.
“Where we saw significant positive movements on price, net for our business in 2014, we only see flat to slightly positive development to our pricing in the U.S. this year,” Chief Executive Lars Rebien Sorensen told a conference call.
The Americas are by far the largest segment for Novo where sales accounted for 49 percent of total in 2014 compared to 23 percent for Europe and 21 percent for China, Japan and Korea.
Novo, the largest insulin maker in the world, kept its 2015 operating profit forecast at 10 percent growth in local currencies and said it expects sales to grow 6 to 9 percent while currency moves would further improve its result.
It said it still expected to decide during the first half of 2015 whether to submit interim or full trial results to the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of its much awaited Tresiba drug failing to get an approval in 2013.
But, a full trial will be complete by the second half of 2016, a year earlier than it had previously thought. Tresiba is considered to be a potential ‘blockbuster’ drug, meaning it should generate at least $1 billion in revenues a year once on the market.
Novo Nordisk’s U.S. business is divided into three markets; basal insulin, short-acting insulin and the GLP 1 market for drugs helping the release of insulin.
In the basal insulin market, Sorensen said companies were able to impose price increases but were also forced into larger rebates to keep their ties with formularies. The short-acting insulin market comprises of older and cheaper drugs.
And Novo dominates the GLP 1 market through its Victoza drug which generated 13 billion Danish crowns ($2 billion) worldwide from a total of 89 billion in sales. The FDA recently approved a new GLP 1 treatment from U.S. rival Eli Lilly.
“Our expectation is we are likely to see a slight decline in our market share (for Victoza) in 2015. But the total market is to expand such that we continue to see double-digit growth for Victoza in 2015,” Sorensen said.
Overall, operating profit for the fourth quarter rose to 9.16 billion Danish crowns ($1.4 billion), above an average forecast of 8.75 billion crowns in a Reuters poll of analysts.
Novo’s shares were down 0.67 percent at 297.90 crowns at 1200 GMT, having climbed steadily for years, regularly hitting record highs. ($1 = 6.5555 Danish crowns) (Additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)