Novartis chief bets big on science-based discovery model

BusinessWeek casts Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella (photo) as a champion of science bucking the current trend of big mergers in favor of an ambitious investment in experimental drugs in a major piece exploring the drug giant's discovery model.

Vasella's main point is one that has become a well-worn mantra among all the big pharma companies: Truly innovative first-in-class therapies will be needed to replace all those big blockbusters losing patent protection in the next few years. Me-too drugs are out. But instead of acquiring promising new companies, Vasella has been betting that the company's pipeline--built on a better understanding of the genetic triggers that cause disease--can produce dramatic new advances in pharmaceuticals.

As proof, BusinessWeek offers up some numbers. Eighty percent of the company's drugs made it from early-stage to late-stage testing, which is 60 percent better than the company's record in 2005. And there are now 93 drugs in the pipeline, 40 percent more than three years ago.

The way Vasella presents it, Novartis is all about good science. If the science is there and the program can deliver, the company is all for it. Forget any pesky little details like potential market size. "If you are guided purely by financial estimates and not the science, you end up wasting time and money," he says.

The profile pulls out all the stops in canonizing Vasella, the sickly child who grew up to become a physican and later helm a major drug company. And it's hard to swallow the assertion that market potential hardly registers in the pipeline equation at Novartis. But he is making a concerted effort to show that big pharma can actually produce important new drugs on its own.

- read the article from BusinessWeek 

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