Novartis hopes speedy new diagnostic gadget can help boost Xolair scripts

Novartis is preparing to roll out a diagnostic tool in Europe, Niji, to help doctors quickly and efficiently test levels of Immunoglobulin E--a step that’s required before starting patients on Xolair.

New meds for a specific type of severe asthma are encroaching on the market for Novartis’ broader treatment Xolair. So, to keep patients coming, Novartis is launching a gadget to quickly diagnose the population it still has on lockdown.

The Swiss pharma giant is preparing to roll out a diagnostic tool in Europe that’ll help doctors quickly and efficiently test levels of Immunoglobulin E--a step that’s required before starting patients on Xolair. With the new system, dubbed Niji, docs only need one to two droplets of blood and 12 minutes before they can make a diagnosis.

That’s quite the improvement on current IgE tests, which are performed in labs and can take up to several weeks to turn up results, the company said. With Niji doing that job with a single appointment and a simple finger-stick, Novartis can help ensure that potential severe allergic asthma patients “are not lost to follow-up,” Novartis’ chief medical officer, Vas Narasimhan, said in a statement.

The Basel-based drugmaker is hoping it’ll eventually be able to use the platform for blood tests that can be applied across other disease areas--but for now, it can get plenty of use out of Niji in asthma. IgE antibody testing is necessary to determine the appropriate dose and dosing frequency for Xolair.

Half of the 30 million asthma patients in Europe are currently uncontrolled, the company estimates, and Novartis certainly wouldn’t mind getting some of those patients on Xolair, which has seen its market share challenged lately. New meds Nucala from GlaxoSmithKline and Cinqair from Teva are specifically addressing severe eosinophilic asthma patients who previously only had the less-targeted Xolair to turn to--and Nucala is already doing so pretty successfully.

On Glaxo’s Q2 conference call, CEO Andrew Witty told investors his company was “ahead of our expectations in the U.S. and Europe” with the drug, with 3,100 patients already on the therapy.

More competition is on the way, too. AstraZeneca has its own prospect, benralizumab, in the works, and it has data in hand that may support less-frequent dosing--and, thus, an advantage in the convenience department over its rivals.

- read Novartis' release

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