Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) investors can breathe a little easier. The company's new treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a.k.a. "smoker's lung" -- passed its three phase 3 trials without so much as a cough.

QAB149 -- I'm sure they'll change the name before it hits the market -- was able to improve lung function compared to placebo, but more importantly it also beat two drugs already on the market: Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Boehringer Ingelheim's Spiriva, and formoterol, the active ingredient in Mylan's (NASDAQ:MYL) Perforomist and Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP) and Novartis' Foradil.

Formoterol is also half of AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) Symbicort, and Novartis is using the same approach of combining QAB149 with other drugs to increase its efficacy even further. Earlier this week, Novartis restructured its deal with Schering-Plough to take over marketing of QMF149 -- another catchy name -- that combines QAB149 with the active ingredient in Schering-Plough's Asmanex. It's also developing a combination of QAB149 with Britain's Vectura's NVA237 called QVA149 (got that?).

Keep those combinations coming, Novartis. If you stick with the Qxx149 naming strategy, there are 673 left.

QAB149 is already under review with the Food and Drug Administration and the regulators in the European Union. QMF149 and QVA149, which could turn out to be more popular if they're more effective, are a little farther behind.

COPD certainly isn't as sexy as cancer, but that doesn't mean there isn't big money to be had treating COPD and asthma, which QAB149 is also being tested as a treatment for. AstraZeneca sold $2 billion worth of Symbicort last year.

If Novartis can keep rolling out the drugs, investors will continue to keep breathing in the dividends and capital appreciation.

Novartis is a Global Gains selection. Investing internationally doesn't have to be scary and it can certainly be profitable. Click here to grab a 30-day trial subscription to the newsletter where you'll see all of our current picks for a global economy.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a recommendation of the Inside Value newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.