Sometimes, less is more. Fewer needle pricks results in more sales. A lower dose of a drug causes a better side-effect profile.

Seems to be working for Novartis (NYSE:NVS).

The company announced pretty good looking phase 3 trial data for its oral multiple sclerosis drug, FTY720, today. Multiple sclerosis drugs from Teva Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ:TEVA), Bayer, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and others have to be injected, and Novartis is in a race against Merck KGaA to bring the first oral multiple sclerosis drug to market. Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) also has an oral MS drug, BG-12, but it's a little farther behind and won't have phase 3 data for another year or more.

At the lower dose, FTY720 reduced the relapse rate by 54% and the progression of disability by 30%, compared with the placebo. That's probably not as good as Biogen and Elan's (NYSE:ELN) Tysabri, but it doesn't have to be because the side-effect profile isn't as bad, especially at the lower dose. In fact, the lower dose worked well enough, with fewer side effects than the higher dose, that Novartis just plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration and the European Union agency to approve the lower dose.

With the development of oral multiple sclerosis drugs, we may see a shift as doctors start treating multiple sclerosis more like diabetes. Patients start on less powerful but more convenient oral medications and then progress to injectable drugs once they need them.

Novartis has been preparing to sell FTY720 for a while, even though the drug's launch is still about a year away. In a rather complicated deal, Novartis is marketing Extavia, an exact copy of Bayer's multiple sclerosis drug Betaseron. With sales reps already in place, Novartis should be able to hit the ground running once U.S. and EU regulators approve FTY720.

Now all Novartis needs is a brand name, because I'm not sure we can extend this less-is-more analogy to a name like FTY720.

Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Investing internationally doesn't have to be scary and it certainly can be profitable. See how with a free 30-day trial to the newsletter and get 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. Elan is a Rule Breakers recommendation and Pfizer is an Inside Value pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.