- Novartis is reducing its drug research programs by roughly 20% to prioritize areas that fit the Swiss drugmaker's priorities moving forward, Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, or NIBR, said in an interview with Bloomberg published Tuesday.
- The change will whittle down NIBR's number of drug research programs by 90, from 430 to 340. Bradner told Bloomberg that while these affected projects include some "great science," they "are not likely to be transformative for patients, or are ill-suited to the focused business ambitions of Novartis."
- A previously announced cut to antibiotics research is included in the 90 projects cited by Bradner, a company spokesperson confirmed to BioPharma Dive. "No further job reductions are envisioned at this time," the spokesperson added.
With each move, the long-term vision of first-year CEO Vas Narasimhan becomes clearer: a focus on complex, potentially transformative, therapeutics, and a step back from lower-margin areas like its Alcon business.
Narasimhan, who took his post in February, has already overseen major layoffs, spinoffs, acquisitions and, now, a pipeline restructuring.
Over the summer, the company joined fellow big pharma AstraZeneca in saying they were getting out of the antibiotics space.
Then last month, executives slimmed down Sandoz, Novartis' generic subsidiary, selling off roughly 300 generic oral solids and dermatology products. And later on in September, the company made headlines by planning to cut more than 2,500 jobs, primarily in manufacturing, across Switzerland and the U.K.
This move adds infectious diseases as another victim to Novartis' narrower focus in 2018. As Bradner explained, these 90 affected research programs were either not a good business fit for Novartis or not transformative enough.
An investor presentation from May showed the underlying logic of these moves. One slide bluntly categorized under the topic of things "we don't do so well" both "integrating non-innovative medicine acquisitions (e.g. Alcon, generic integration)" and "sustainably managing broad diversification."
Instead, the presentation laid out, Novartis would pick its spots, emphasizing its opportunities in areas like CAR-T, and gene therapy, among others.
Novartis paid more than $100 million upfront at the beginning of 2018 to secure the ex-U.S. commercial rights to Spark Therapeutics' Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec), the first gene therapy approved in the U.S. to treat a hereditary condition.
In April, the company bought AveXis, a biotech focused on gene therapy, for $8.7 billion. The move gave them a potential treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, AVXS-101, which leads their gene therapy candidates.
Novartis was also the first to win U.S. approval for a CAR-T cancer therapy, securing a green light from the Food and Drug Administration last August for Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel).
While emphasizing the potential of these therapies is only natural for Novartis, it's worth noting that these high-reward bets do come with major risks as well.
Questions continue to hang over manufacturing and commercialization of cell and gene therapies — something Novartis has already encountered with Kymriah.