JPM: New Novartis pharma chief rethinks its drug-launch formula

SAN FRANCISCO—Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said this week the company has to become a “launch machine” to make current and upcoming rollouts pay off. Key to that effort will be its pharma chief, Marie-France Tschudin, who's revamping its launch strategies for a new era.

These days, rollouts are more complex, partly because patients are much more autonomous—in essence, they're “in the driver’s seat," Tschudin told FiercePharma at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

In the past, pharma took a “transactional” approach to selling medicines, said Tschudin, who replaced Paul Hudson, now Sanofi’s CEO, at the Novartis pharma helm. Drugmakers simply sold their products at specific prices and promoted them to doctors, she said.  

Nowadays it's not enough to simply bring a new product with "great potential" to market, she said. Companies have to take a “value-based approach” and make sure it “gets the access it deserves.” 

Drugmakers also have to be there when and where patients need help. That means identifying gaps patients experience in the healthcare system, Tschudin said.

Consider back pain diagnosis. It’s important to determine whether the problem is inflammatory or mechanical, she pointed out. A patient with inflammation doesn't need a surgeon. So, a simple questionnaire from Novartis or a partner can help guide patients to the right doctor—and to the right type of treatment.

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For wet AMD patients, the problem isn't diagnosis, but sticking to treatment. A “huge percentage” of patients stop getting injections because they don't have caregivers to take them to treatment centers, she said.

Novartis, which just won FDA approval for its next-gen AMD med Beovu, is exploring a partnership in Japan that would deploy a rideshare app to get patients to treatment. The program is "product-agnostic" and Novartis isn’t paying for the rides, but it’s another way the company can help patients beyond simply putting a product in the market. 

The Swiss drugmaker plans to apply those lessons and others for its rollouts of Beovu—now ongoing in the U.S. and planned in Europe—plus this year’s expected debut of ofatumumab for multiple sclerosis.

Next year will likely bring the rollout of inclisiran, which made headlines at JPM thanks to a "world-first" NHS England partnership. Novartis picked up that med in its recent buyout of The Medicines Company.

The company's also thinking long-term about launches in a way it hasn't before. Novartis has reallocated resources from its established medicines portfolio into planning marketing for future drugs, Tschudin said. It's part of a “mindset shift” that has allowed the company to think more about the “future rather than the present,” she said.