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Novartis posts first-quarter sales, profit beat as COVID-19 spurs prescriptions

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG is seen at its headquarters in Basel
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ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis reported rising first-quarter sales and profit that beat analyst expectations and confirmed its 2020 targets as the coronavirus pandemic prompted patients to stock up on their prescriptions in advance.

"COVID-19 did result in increased forward purchasing by customers, including at the patient level, as some patients filled prescriptions to cover a longer period of time," Novartis said on Tuesday.

Core net income rose to $3.55 billion, from $2.8 billion in 2019 and compared to the average analyst forecast in a Refinitiv poll of $3.17 billion. Sales rose to $12.3 billion from $11.1 billion in the year-ago period, also above the poll average of $12 billion.

Net income rose 16% to $2.2 billion. The Basel-based company at this time still expects revenue to grow at a mid- to high-single-digit percentage rate, with core operating profit growth even faster at a high-single to low-double-digit rate.

Novartis said the new coronavirus epidemic did not disrupt its underlying operations, but that significant advance buying by patients concerned about access to their medicines helped boost revenue and profits significantly in the first three months of the year.

"Excluding COVID-19 related forward purchases, we estimate sales growth would have been approximately 9%," the company said, less than the 13% growth it reported at constant exchange rates.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)

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