Novartis dumps 20% of programs following pipeline review 

Novartis headquarters
More details may emerge at the R&D update event Novartis is holding in London on Monday. (Wikimedia Commons/Andrew/Flickr)

Jay Bradner, M.D., has revealed that Novartis has scrapped one-fifth of its drug programs. The cull is designed to limit Novartis’ pipeline to potentially transformative therapies that fit with the company’s ambitions.

Talking to Bloomberg, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research President Bradner shared top-line details of the results of a pipeline review. Novartis went into the review with 430 drug programs in its pipeline. It is exiting the review with 340 drug programs. Some of the scrapped drugs will languish at Novartis. Others may be licensed out. 

Novartis has yet to share details of the programs affected by the cull. But Bradner did provide insights into the thinking that led Novartis to identify pipeline prospects as surplus to requirements.

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“The sadness about these 90 projects is there’s some great science there,” Bradner said. “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.”

Novartis’ recent third-quarter results featured some news of drug program comings and goings but nothing on the scale of the cuts outlined by Bradner. More details may emerge at the R&D update event Novartis is holding in London on Monday.

Whatever the identities of the drugs on the block, the contours of the results of the pipeline review are familiar. As happened at GlaxoSmithKline following the appointment of Emma Walmsley as CEO, the arrival of a new leader at Novartis has triggered a cull of pipeline programs. Over the past two years, Alexion, Biogen and Eli Lilly have been through similar post-leadership change reviews.  

The scale of the cull sets Novartis’ actions apart, though. GSK decided to scrap or offload 65 drug programs in the 15 months after Walmsley’s appointment. Novartis, a bigger company, has decided to drop 90 programs within nine months of Vas Narasimhan taking over. 

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