Novartis brings heart, cancer meds to low-income countries for $1 per month

Joerg Reinhardt

Novartis ($NVS) has stood by its commitment to emerging markets even in rocky times. And now, it's furthering that commitment with an access initiative for low-income countries.

The Swiss pharma giant Thursday launched Novartis Access, a portfolio of 15 meds--both patent and generic--spanning cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and breast cancer that it'll offer to governments, NGOs and other public-sector HCPs for $1 per treatment per month. It'll roll out first in Kenya, Ethiopia and Vietnam, with plans to expand to 30 countries in the coming years, the company said.

"This program takes a novel approach to addressing the rising tide of chronic diseases in parts of the world where people often have limited access to healthcare. We know we will need to keep an open mindset and learn as we progress on this journey," Chairman Joerg Reinhardt said in a statement.

Novartis has plenty of experience working with governments in developing nations. Partnerships in countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia have been a core part of the company's growth strategy, helping it derive more than a quarter of its net sales from emerging markets last year.

Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez

And the Basel-based pharma plans to stick to that strategy despite a recent emerging-markets slowdown--especially in China. Last week, CEO Joe Jimenez told Reuters that Novartis planned to "live through the volatility" amid a growth rate in the country that has sunk to the mid-single digits.

"If you think about the global healthcare market maybe growing at 2 or 3 percent, this is still incremental growth," he said.

Meanwhile, Novartis is not the first to offer up low-cost meds to countries in the greatest need. Recent deal partner GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), for one, has done so many times; it plans to offer its forthcoming malaria vaccine--the world's first--at just 5% more than the cost of manufacturing, putting the profit margin back into malaria research.

- read the release

Special Report: Top 10 Drugmakers in Emerging Markets - Novartis