Novartis hands over Tasigna patent as part of coalition with Roche, BMS and more to boost cancer drug access in poor countries

Several large pharma companies have joined hands with global health organizations in a new partnership that aims to improve access to essential cancer medicines in poorer nations.

The Access to Oncology Medicines (ATOM) coalition is launching with that goal and several cancer drug makers as its partners. As of Wednesday, AstraZeneca, BeiGene, Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi and Teva have signed on.

Convened by the Union for International Cancer Control, the ATOM partnership will help improve access to cancer meds on the World Health Organization’s (WHO's) essential medicines list—or those likely to be included in the future—in low- and middle-income countries. It will also work to increase the capacity for both diagnosing cancer and for the proper handling and supply monitoring of those cancer meds.

In 2020, more than 3.5 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in less well-off nations. But less than 50% of the cancer therapies on the WHO’s essential medicines list are available in those countries, ATOM says.

To get started, the coalition has compiled a list of priority cancers that have the highest death rate in those poorer countries: lung, colorectal, breast, cervical, prostate and childhood cancers.

In one of the first access moves by a coalition member, Novartis is licensing its blockbuster chronic myeloid leukemia therapy Tasigna to the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).

Similar to MPP's efforts with COVID-19 products, the Tasigna license will allow generic manufacturers to make and sell copycats in local markets. Royalties from selling and distribution of Tasigna generics in the countries will go to the ATOM coalition to “generate a continued investment that will contribute to the strengthening of local health systems,” a Novartis spokesperson told Fierce Pharma.

As a follow-up to Novartis’ Gleevec, Tasigna generated $2.06 billion in global sales last year. The drug is slated to lose patent protection in 2023.

Novartis will evaluate the ATOM model and consider adding new assets in the future, the spokesperson added.

Many global health projects already exist to improve access to key medicines. ATOM says it aims to “address the current lack of connectivity” between those initiatives and “support their growth by developing synergies and addressing common challenges.”

ATOM will start by building capacity in up to 10 countries. It aims to eventually cover over of half countries classified by the World Bank as low- or middle-income economies.

Besides the pharma partners, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, The Max Foundation and other organizations are also listed as ATOM’s members.