As Novartis shakes off its Alcon eye business and the loss of two high-profile executives, chief Vas Narasimhan has outlined the Swiss drugmaker’s roster of 14 blockbuster launches, a bulk of which are expected to win approval between this year and 2020. The drugs included in the list are largely familiar, but the inclusion of the company’s pioneering CAR-T therapy Kymriah, whose adoption has been wobbly due to manufacturing woes, will raise some eyebrows.
In 2017, Novartis spent a hefty $9 billion on R&D, making it one of the top spenders in global biopharma. Investors expect to see the company to now get bang for its buck. Last November, the company used it R&D review to highlight 26 blockbuster contenders in its arsenal and offer a rosy picture of things to come after suffering a few knocks — the FDA rejecting its heart drug, and the company abandoning its attempt at a Rituxan copycat.
Since then, the company has seen good days and bad. On the positive front, its gene therapy for SMA secured the FDA’s priority review, and its sickle cell drug won breakthrough therapy status. The drugmaker also swallowed a cell and gene therapy manufacturer in an attempt to unclog the commercial rollout for Kymriah. In a first for a multinational pharmaceutical company, Novartis’ Sandoz unit tied up with Canadian medical cannabis producer Tilray, a landmark endorsement of the controversial plant. On Wednesday, as part of its full-year 2018 results, the drugmaker said four newer products — including Cosentyx and Entresto — in its roster of medicines achieved blockbuster status in 2018.
On the other end of the scale, Novartis has also suffered a number of setbacks in the last quarter of 2018. For instance, its migraine drug Aimovig — billed as a blockbuster and partnered with Amgen — was refused endorsement by the UK’s NICE, months after the agency declined to give the nod for Kymriah. Two top executives — CAR-T chief David Lebwohl and oncology head Liz Barrett — also left the drugmaker to take top positions in small biotechs. And J&J dealt Novartis a blow when its psoriasis drug Tremfya beat the dominant Cosentyx in a head-to-head study.
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