Slashing 186 jobs, Novartis hands off U.S. sales, marketing duties for migraine med Aimovig to Amgen

Novartis headquarters
Novartis said it will hand off shared Aimovig U.S. operations over to Amgen and slash 186 jobs. (Novartis)

Novartis and Amgen were the first onto the CGRP scene with migraine drug Aimovig, but tensions ensued shortly into the drug's launch as both partners filed dueling lawsuits against each other. But now with the migraine market becoming increasingly crowded, Novartis will cede U.S. Aimovig operations over to Amgen. 

Novartis will hand previously shared joint U.S. business operations for Aimovig over to Amgen, including, but not limited to, sales, marketing and medical support functions, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

As a result, Novartis will slash 186 jobs supporting Aimovig. Those include brand marketing and field sales positions that report to Novartis' U.S. headquarters in East Hanover, New Jersey. The layoffs, effective in September, were first filed on the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification website. Novartis' spokesperson said the move will "enhance operational efficiencies in the increasingly competitive migraine space."

Financial aspects of the U.S. collaboration, including "sharing the commercialization costs and receiving royalties on sales," will remain in tact. Novartis will also retain the right to sell Aimovig outside of the U.S., except in Japan. 

RELATED: As Amgen seeks to can Aimovig collaboration, Novartis sues to save the deal

The move comes amid a court battle between the two drugmakers dating back to early 2019. Novartis first sued Amgen in Manhattan federal court for trying to inappropriately back out of their collaboration. Amgen originally had rights to the drug, but Novartis in 2015 partnered on Aimovig and spent more than $800 million on its development and commercialization, the lawsuit said. 

Amgen sued back, arguing that Novartis breached the agreement by helping bring a potential competitor to market. Novartis' Sandoz unit teamed with Alder BioPharmaceuticals on a rival CGRP drug known as eptinezumab. Lundbeck snapped up that drug, now FDA approved and sold as Vyepti, as part of its $2 billion buyout of Alder BioPharmaceuticals in late 2019. 

Novartis' latest move is for efficiency's sake and "does not resolve the litigation Novartis currently has with Amgen," the spokesperson said. The Swiss drugmaker said two claims in its U.S. litigation against Amgen related to commercialization expenses and the drug's launch will be resolved while the others remain pending.  

RELATED: Novartis, shrinking 19% of its workforce, faces big challenges with thinned ranks

While Aimovig may have been the first preventative CGRP-target migraine therapy to score an FDA approval in 2018, it's since been followed by a slew of rival treatments. In the injectable monoclonal antibody market, Aimovig competes with Teva’s Ajovy and Eli Lilly’s Emgality. But while Aimovig had a head start, Eli Lilly's rival has since passed the first-mover in quarterly sales. Emgality generated $119 million during the first quarter, compared with $66 million for Aimovig.

Meanwhile, Biohaven Pharmaceutical's oral Nurtec ODT became the first FDA-approved option to both prevent and treat migraines in late May. The FDA is also reviewing an oral drug from AbbVie, known as atogepant, for the prevention of migraines. AbbVie's Ubrelvy won FDA approval in late 2019 as an acute treatment option.

The Novartis layoffs come amid a four-year restructuring process initiated in 2018 by CEO Vas Narasimhan. At the time, the Novartis chief outlined plans to reduce the company's overall footprint by at least 19%, from 124,000 employees to under 100,000 by 2022. The drugmaker currently has about 110,000 employees globally.