Novartis' Vasella focuses on rare disease strategy

The recent approval of Novartis' Ilaris for a rare inflammatory disease marks one of the first solid commercial successes for CEO Daniel Vasella's long quest to overhaul the pharma company's pipeline. Researchers targeted the initial indication for the drug after outlining the clear genetic triggers for the disease. And more such approvals are likely to follow.

That's the strategy Vasella laid out in 2002 when he hired Mark Fishman, a noted geneticist from Harvard, to head up research at the company's new labs in Cambridge, MA. But with many drugs requiring a 10-year pathway to reach an initial approval, it's taking quite some time for this pipeline overhaul to produce a series of successes.

Vasella, though, shows no signs of wavering from his position that the days of the blockbuster 'me too' drug are all but finished. With payers tightening up, it's the cheapest drug that wins the market these days. That's pushing Novartis to develop new drugs that target smaller patient populations. "Payer awareness of what they buy and why they buy is not going to diminish. And if they have good alternatives which are less expensive, they will go to the less expensive alternatives," Dr. Vasella says.

- here's the article from the Wall Street Journal

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