Bad news for Novartis, good for GlaxoSmithKline: Sandoz' Advair copy stiff-armed at FDA

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Novartis was counting on an approval for its Advair copy to help boost its ailing Sandoz generics unit. (Novartis)

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan last month said the company’s Advair generic—specifically its approval, anticipated for the first half of this year—was one of his top three worries for 2018. That worry just grew.

The FDA has now refused to approve the copycat, Novartis said Thursday. In a complete response letter, the agency asked for more data on the drug, which aimed to be a substitutable version of GlaxoSmithKline’s big-selling respiratory drug Advair. 

The Swiss drugmaker now says it’s “highly unlikely” the generic will launch this year. Sandoz’ version is the third to be turned away by the FDA.

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GlaxoSmithKline investors cheered Thursday, anticipating at least a partial reprieve from the £750 million sales hit the company has said it expects if multiple Advair copies launch midyear. It could well face Mylan, however, whose version is set for an FDA action date in June. The company says it could win a nod before then.

Meanwhile, Hikma and Vectura are fighting with the FDA over their own rejection. Vectura has said it’s not sure when the product will launch; it could be as late as 2020.

Sandoz had included the Advair generic in its assumptions for 2018, Sandoz CEO Richard Francis said during the fourth-quarter earnings call, basing its numbers on launching “this year into a competitive environment ... [a]nd that's how we've assessed and model ourselves for 2018.”

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But apparently, the company wasn’t anticipating a big kick-in from the product this year, perhaps because of that competition. In its Thursday statement, Novartis said its expectations for Sandoz sales growth this year “is unchanged” and “broadly in line with prior year to a slight decline.”

No doubt the company will want to get its application back in as soon as possible. With details scarce on the data the FDA requires, it’s tough to tell when that might be. A launch early next year would be quite different from a launch in late 2019, for Sandoz and for Glaxo, too.

“We will be working with the agency to clarify the points raised in the CRL and will provide further information when available,” said Shawn Silvestri, head of global product development at Novartis’ Sandoz unit, in an emailed statement. “We are committed to bringing our generic Advair to patients in the U.S. as soon as possible,” he added.