Novartis And Curing Cancer

The 5/26/14 edition of Forbes has a great article on Novartis called “Will This Man Cure Cancer?”.  It’s an interesting article and Novartis has really ramped up their focus on Oncology with their purchase of Glaxo’s Cancer drugs.  And, they recently got FDA approval for a lung cancer drug of theirs.  

The article talks about Joseph Jimenez’s leadership at Novartis and highlights several interesting things:

  • A focus on speed to stop having to turn patients away from a possible cure.
  • Cancer drugs already represent $11.2B of Novartis’ $58B in sales.
  • Novartis has a 33% stake in Roche which has $31B in oncology sales.
  • Gleevec was it’s big breakthrough oncology drug that Jimenez’s predecessor believed in and has been so successful that it’s a $4.6B drug where they’ve been able to quadruple the price.
  • It talks about transforming the campus working with architects like Frank Gehry and moving research to Cambridge, MA.

There is some discussion on a new therapy that they’re working on based on some initial trials which uses CARTs (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cells) to attach cancer.  At the same time, Juno Therapeutics is on the same trail and raised $175M in their first round to research it.    

I really liked one quote from Jimenez in the article that seems to imply a focus on the end goal not necessarily whether they win.  

“You look at a company like Celgene, and you know they’re going to figure it out.  And they should figure it out.  It will be good for patients.  We want to beat the competition, but we’re really using the competition to trigger us to get to the patient.”

He goes on to talk about the issue of pricing especially around oncology drugs (but also applicable to specialty drugs in general).  He calls it “a new brutal world” because costs will go up with the aging population and new medicines which will cause more backlash against price.  He talks about looking at how to be innovative about pricing which could be interesting.  

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