On a winning streak, Novartis maps bullish ophthalmology R&D strategy

Over the past two years Novartis ($NVS) has managed to steer clear of the R&D breakdown that has afflicted such rivals as Pfizer ($PFE) and Sanofi ($SNY), pushing them to upend pipelines and reconfigure development strategies. Instead of slashing costs or trying to instill a new work ethic, Novartis has continued to invest billions in drug research as it stuck with its development strategy. And its savvy therapeutic picks led to 17 new drug approvals over the past year-and-a-half in the U.S. and Europe.

Today the pharma giant laid out its strategy for staying on the same productive course as it absorbs Alcon. After outlining a plan to slice away $350 million in "synergies," Novartis flagged a plan to boost R&D spending on new drugs for glaucoma and macular degeneration, boasting of the world's largest research budget for ophthalmology. And the new ophthalmology initiative will have the help of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

"Alcon is leading innovation in eye care, with 15 key regulatory approvals in 2010, 11 key approvals so far in 2011 and continued regulatory filings over the next three years, including new technology platforms in the surgical field," Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis noted.

But Alcon and Novartis won't have the help of the Big Pharma's development chief, Trevor Mundel. Novartis says that Mundel has signed on as executive director of the prestigious global health program at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is slated to leave Novartis December 1 and the company plans to announce his replacement soon.

Mundel joined Novartis back in 2003 and has been given a significant amount of credit for building a strong pipeline, which is widely respected among the analysts covering the company. Now he'll apply the experience he's earned in the pharma world to one of the most ambitious nonprofit development efforts, with a special focus on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

- check out the Novartis release
- here's the Gates Foundation release
- here's the Reuters story on Mundel