* Novartis trumpets Cosentyx data amid rising competition
* Drug halted radiographic progression of spin damage
* Cosentyx is now Novartis's No. 3 drug (Adds details about Cosentyx competition, comment from Novartis)
By John Miller
ZURICH, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Novartis on Monday stepped up its defence of Cosentyx amid rising competition from other immunology medicines, with data indicating its drug halted damage to ankylosing spondylitis (AS) patients' spines after four years of treatment.
Of 274 patients receiving Cosentyx, Novartis said almost 80 percent demonstrated on X-ray images at 208 weeks no progression of spine damage from the inflammatory disease that causes bone growths on vertebrae, stiffness, pain and mobility loss.
Cosentyx, also approved for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a pillar of the Swiss drugmaker's plan to return to growth in 2018. Novartis's No. 3-selling medicine racked up nearly $1.5 billion in revenue in 2017's first nine months and is seen topping $4 billion by 2021, according to analysts polled by Reuters.
But with Eli Lilly's Taltz as well as Johnson & Johnson's Tremfya now gathering approvals in an increasingly crowded immunology market, Novartis is highlighting Cosentyx's accumulating data as it seeks to sway doctors, payers and patients.
"That's the longest that people have shown for a biologic of this kind," Eric Hughes, Novartis's Immunology and Dermatology development unit head, said of the four-year data. "That future potential - to keep people mobile, functioning and going to their job everyday - is really the great hope."
Novartis' data, at the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals meeting in San Diego, come atop separate results showing psoriasis patients getting Cosentyx sustained skin clearance rates at five years.
Successful immunology drugs like AbbVie's Humira, with $16 billion in annual sales, have prompted a raft of companies to develop new molecules.
Novartis's Cosentyx and Lilly's Taltz block a protein associated with inflammation that plays a role in psoriasis and arthritis. J&J's Tremfya works similarly by blocking another protein.
Taltz posted $386.7 million in sales in the first nine months of 2017, though some analysts warned sales were under threat due to intense competition.
Lilly is awaiting an FDA decision for Taltz for psoriatic arthritis and has late-stage trials against radiographic and non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, which include AS, with results due in 2018, a spokeswoman said of the drug that is seen hitting $1.8 billion in sales by 2021.
J&J's Tremfya, developed with Germany's Morphosys, won FDA approval in July against psoriasis and is also being studied against psoriatic arthritis, with sales seen topping $2 billion by 2021.
Valeant and AstraZeneca also have a new psoriasis drug called Siliq, though a warning over possible suicidal behavior is seen denting its prospects. (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Joshua Franklin and Biju Dwarakanath)