After $3.4B deal and EU withdrawal, Novartis looks to sell Xiidra: Bloomberg

The slim-down at Novartis continues, with some eye disease products now reportedly on the chopping block.

Novartis has tapped an adviser to start selling some ophthalmology assets, Bloomberg reports, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

Not all Novartis eye drugs are up for sale. Novartis plans to divest products that treat the front of the eye, the people said, according to Bloomberg. These include Xiidra, a dry eye med that Novartis paid $3.4 billion to get from Takeda, which sold the legacy Shire product in 2019.

For its part, Novartis is zeroing in on five therapeutic areas amid an ongoing groupwide overhaul. Under a strategy unveiled last year, the company is focusing on cardiovascular diseases, immunology, neuroscience, solid tumors and hematology.

In an emailed statement to Fierce Pharma, a Novartis spokesperson said the company routinely assesses opportunities within its portfolio.

Although ophthalmology isn’t one of Novartis’ five priority areas, the company “remains committed to the disease area with both in-market products and breakthrough technologies,” the spokesperson added.

The new report comes two months after Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan refuted an earlier Bloomberg report stating that the company was weighing various options, including sales, for its ophthalmology and respiratory disease businesses. At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January, Narasimhan said the company remained committed to those fields.

Novartis apparently didn’t get what it had hoped for from Xiidra. For a $3.4 billion asset, Xiidra only returned $487 million in sales last year, a 4% increase from 2021. Novartis in 2020 withdrew a marketing application for Xiidra in Europe after the European Medicines Agency raised major objections, and the company has since not introduced the dry eye med in Europe.

Before the latest sale rumor, Novartis last year discontinued a farsightedness candidate called UNR844. That drug was the centerpiece of a $375 million buyout of Encore Vision in 2017.

The latest asset sale talks don’t include drugs against diseases that affect the retina at the back of the eye, Bloomberg reports. This represents a larger portfolio by sales, including Roche-partnered Lucentis, which generated $1.9 billion sales for Novartis last year.

Another anti-VEGF drug, Beovu, has been languishing after safety concerns developed early in the course of its launch. The med generated just $203 million in sales last year.

Novartis’ ophthalmology business also includes two gene therapies: Roche-partnered Luxturna for an inherited retinal disease and PPY988, a geographic atrophy candidate that Novartis recently bought through an acquisition of Gyroscope Therapeutics. At JPM 2022, Narasimhan highlighted the latter candidate, saying it could potentially be a “very, very significant medicine.” These two drugs aren’t in the for-sale bundle, according to Bloomberg’s front-of-eye description.

The reported divestiture efforts come amid a larger reshuffling at Novartis. After selling its share in a consumer health joint venture and spinning off eye care specialist Alcon in recent years, Novartis is on track to spin out its generics unit Sandoz into a separately listed company.