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Novartis culls pipeline to focus on most transformative science

Anti-infectives among areas hit by streamlining

Novartis

Novartis has revealed that it is to abandon over 100 R&D programmes, slashing its pipeline by a fifth.

Its R&D chief Jay Bradner has told Bloomberg that it will cull 110 projects from a total of 430 in order to focus its resources on only the most cutting-edge drug candidates.

“The sadness about these 90 projects is there’s some great science there,” Bradner told Bloomberg. “These are not bad ideas. Many of them have momentum, but they either are not likely to be transformative for patients, or are ill-suited to the focused business ambitions of Novartis.”

The decision reflects a now familiar cyclical process in big pharma: rapid pipeline consolidation, followed by periods of development and assessment of clinical and commercial potential, and then a cull of less promising candidates to free up resources for the brightest prospects.

GSK and Bayer have both recently revealed similarly sweeping reviews, a sign that the big players can no longer afford to have ‘makeweight’ programmes taking up R&D resources.

Medicines for infectious diseases are among the research projects being abandoned – also part of a worrying trend within in the industry, where commercial incentives are failing to match the urgent clinical need for new treatments.

Novartis chief executive Vas Narasimhan, formerly the company's head of drug development, is working closely with Bradner to pursue only groundbreaking innovation. Other signs of this include Novartis selling off its share in a consumer health joint venture to GSK for $13bn, and using the proceeds to buy gene therapy company AveXis for $8.7bn, and cancer specialist Endocyte for $2.1bn.

Jay Bradner

Jay Bradner

“Society should expect Novartis to bring forward truly impactful, truly differentiated, truly important medicines for patients with life-threatening diseases,” said Bradner.

The company has demonstrated its innovation-leading status by being the first to bring a CAR-T drug to market, Kymriah, however this cutting-edge science isn't a guarantee of commercial success - the cell therapy has so far struggled to meet revenue expectations.

Novartis says some projects will be out-licensed for other companies to develop, while others may “sit on the shelf” longer than previously anticipated.

The company hasn’t yet disclosed full details of which candidates will be taken out of active development, sold off or abandoned, but will provide more detail at an R&D update event on Monday.

It recently hit problems with one of its most important late-stage programmes when the FDA refused to accept the filing of anti-inflammatory drug canakinumab (Ilaris) in cardiovascular risk reduction.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

31st October 2018

From: Research

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