Novartis sees Saudi Arabia as promising market for producing its cancer drugs

(David Mark/Pixabay) Novartis is exploring local production of some of its cancer drugs in Saudi Arabia. (David Mark Pixabay)

Novartis may be struggling a bit in the U.S. with cancer drug launches, but it has a new market it can now explore: Saudi Arabia.

The Swiss drugmaker has signed off on a memorandum of understanding with Sudair Pharma for a technology transfer that would allow the Saudi Arabian company to produce a number of “innovative” cancer drugs in the kingdom, the Arab News reports.

Officials told the publication that Novartis had decided to produce its oncology drugs in Saudi Arabia, a country that reports cancer rates above world averages.

It will find plenty of competition from other Western drugmakers that got there first. Pfizer two years ago opened a $50 million, 11,108 -square-meter (119,565-square-foot) manufacturing and packaging facility in the kingdom. It was slated to produce cardiovascular, pain, anti-infective, urology and neurology products.

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Also in 2017, a joint venture between the United Arab Emirates-based Julphar Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries and Cigalah Group, a Saudi healthcare distributor, opened a $53 million, 75,000-square-meter (807,292-square-foot) facility in the country to make generic drugs.

Officials in Saudi Arabia pointed to Novartis’ history of developing cancer drugs, but the pharma giant has struggled a bit in the oncology area of late. Kisqali, a breast cancer treatment approved in 2017, has struggled to gain traction against Pfizer blockbuster Ibrance and newer rival Verzenio from Eli Lilly. And Kymriah, the company’s pioneering CAR-T drug, has run into manufacturing challenges that have slowed expansion.

But there has been one notable exception: Lutathera, approved early last year to treat somatostatin receptor-positive gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, has done quite well.

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