Novartis catches chill as masks keep flu at bay

A global health crisis hasn't necessarily been good news for drugmakers.

On Tuesday (April 27) Swiss giant Novartis said its first-quarter core net income dropped 4% to $3.4 billion.

That was worse than analysts expected.

A world where everyone is wearing masks was one factor.

The precautions have seen few people get the flu this year, cutting demand for some of Novartis's staple drugs.

Sales of cancer and eye disease medicine also took a hit as fewer people sought treatment.

The firm is also battling ever-tougher price competition for its generic drugs unit, Sandoz.

Its core operating income tumbled by over a third during the quarter.

Novartis has no vaccine business of its own.

But it is helping with bottling, and making doses for other brands.

Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan says the firm could step up output if required.

Novartis shares traded marginally lower by lunchtime Tuesday following the results.