Novartis leans on state-by-state strategy, digital prowess for latest MS launch

Novartis headquarters
Novartis won FDA approval for Kesimpta on Aug. 20. (Novartis)

“None of us have experience launching in a pandemic,” Victor Bultó, Novartis’ U.S. pharma president, acknowledged ahead of last week’s FDA green light for multiple sclerosis med Kesimpta. But the company thinks it’s pretty well set up for the task.

The Swiss drugmaker has a launch plan tailored to “every different state and office that we have”—a plan that’s necessary, Bultó said, given that “every state is acting a different way” in regard to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

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While that’s required a lot of extra planning, at this point, “we believe we’re well-positioned to execute” the launch of Kesimpta, which is heading into a highly competitive field.

Of course, it will help that patients have largely returned to doctors’ offices, even amid the spread of COVID-19. “Initially, what we saw is patients being reluctant to leave … and go and visit doctors” because of pandemic concerns, Bultó said. But as of now, “that trend has reverted back,” with visits at 80% to 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

But Novartis is also working on ways to reach patients with the Kesimpta message outside of doctors' offices. It’s spent the last couple years working on a full-scale digital transformation, and as part of that effort, it’s been “investing very heavily” in new digital platforms for patient outreach, promotion and onboarding—“and of course, this will come in handy now,” Bultó said.

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Part of its outreach will likely focus on Kesimpta’s convenience advantage over its competitors. The once-monthly injection, which patients can give themselves at home, will go head-to-head against Sanofi’s Aubagio—a daily pill—and Roche’s IV infusion Ocrevus.

Ocrevus in particular has taken the market by storm in recent years on the back of strong efficacy data. But right now, patients on the drug “have to drive to the infusion center, be premedicated in some cases, sit there and be observed, then drive back,” Bultó noted. “All of that is avoided with this injection.”