As it eyes becoming a data-driven leader in the pharma space, Novartis said it's working to "make sure we’re embracing digital and technology wherever we can." But elsewhere, the company's Sandoz unit has given the cold shoulder to Pear Therapeutics, ending its commercialization experiments with the software developer's prescription smartphone apps for treating substance use disorders.
Novartis' generics division attributed the decision to the company’s “transformation and subsequent leadership change, which has resulted in a reinforced focus on and capital allocation for Sandoz core business.”
The Big Pharma has worked to “de-integrate” Sandoz from the mothership for the past year, giving the company more autonomy without selling it outright or spinning it off just yet—as Novartis did with its Alcon eye care business back in April.
Sandoz’s previous CEO, Richard Francis, stepped down around that same time amid the multiyear company overhaul: 2018 saw Sandoz sell its U.S. dermatology and oral solids businesses—about 300 products, all told—to India’s Aurobindo Pharma for $1 billion. The company also sold eight more U.S. generics to Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals for an undisclosed sum in early 2019.
Over the summer, the company poached GlaxoSmithKline’s former commercial and digital lead, Richard Saynor, for the CEO position. Saynor previously held leadership roles at Sandoz and helped oversee its expansions into Asia, Turkey and Latin America—but Novartis’ pick was specifically heralded for his digital expertise, as the drugmaker aims to integrate data science into its day-to-day processes.
Novartis also recently announced a partnership with Microsoft that aims to bring artificial intelligence tools to the desks of every research associate. The five-year partnership will also establish an AI innovation lab along with joint projects spanning R&D, clinical trial design and manufacturing.
And earlier this year, one of the leaders of Sandoz's digital transformation told FiercePharma that Pear's apps and the companies' partnerships represented a definitive edge.
“We believe that prescription digital therapeutics are about to become a true medical alternative that will use communication-based technologies and software to improve patient outcomes and help lower the cost of healthcare,” said Mike Fraser, VP of strategy, innovation and analytics, in the May interview.
Alas, the plug was still pulled, and Pear will go it alone in marketing its FDA-approved reSET and reSET-O products, for substance use disorder and opioid use disorder, respectively.
First launched in April 2018, its year-and-a-half deal with Sandoz was technically a co-promotion agreement. The two companies said that Pear has since built up its own, standalone commercial team capable of carrying those two products, as well as any upcoming offerings.
The FierceMedTech Fierce 15 winner submitted its internally developed digital product for chronic insomnia and depression to the FDA in July. Pear has also been developing, in partnership with the senior Novartis, prescription apps geared toward schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. Though they are currently listed in the early stages, their future was not referenced in the latest announcement.
However, Sandoz did say it would continue to partner with Pear and support its commercial efforts through a transition period to guarantee uninterrupted patient access to reSET and reSET-O.