Novartis, after 5 blockbuster nods in 2019, hopes for 25 more in the coming years

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan 2019
Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has placed an emphasis on cell, gene and radioligand therapies. (Novartis)

Novartis has already had a big year for drug approvals—scoring five nods for potential blockbusters in 2019—but the drugmaker on Thursday told investors to expect more in the coming years. 

The Swiss drugmaker is plotting 80 major drug submissions from 2020 to 2022 in the United States, Europe, Japan and China, execs said at an R&D event in London on Thursday. Of that group, 25 could become new blockbuster meds or blockbuster label expansions for existing drugs. And Novartis is planning 50 submissions in China alone from 2019 to 2023, according to the investor presentation.  

In 2019, Novartis scored approvals for potential blockbusters in multiple sclerosis med Mayzent, spinal muscular atrophy gene therapy Zolgensma, breast cancer med Piqray, wet AMD drug Beovu and sickle cell disease med Adakveo. Novartis defines "blockbusters" as new meds that can generate $1 billion at peak across all indications, or an add-on use for an existing med that could generate that level of sales.

This year was a “breakthrough” year for the drugmaker, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said in a statement. He added that the "near term brings yet another catalyst-rich period with pipeline progress across the portfolio that can sustain long-term growth."

Looking ahead, the company is planning new submissions in its core disease areas of oncology, neuroscience, ophthalmology, respiratory, CRM (cardiovascular, renal and metabolism), and IHD (immunology, hepatology and dermatology). The drugmaker has more than 160 projects in clinical development and more than 500 ongoing clinical trials.  

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It's also pouring resources into its cell, gene and radioligand therapy platforms; it has 16 clinical candidates across those technologies.

For existing meds, the company is eying 40 potential add-on indications, including seven alone for anti-inflammatory blockbuster Cosentyx. It’s looking at broadening uses for Beovu, Piqray and Kisqali, among other drugs. 

The R&D update comes as Novartis has hit its stride on the sales front, as well. In the third quarter, the drugmaker outpaced most of its peer group in revenue growth. 

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But it wasn’t all good news for the drugmaker in 2019. The company suffered a Zolgensma data manipulation scandal in August and a safety scare for the new gene therapy in October. Novartis has said the data scandal hasn't dented demand for the med. Still, Narasimhan has made building trust with society a top priority for the drugmaker, which is no stranger to scandal.