Novartis plant disruptions affect pet treatments

Manufacturing problems and disruptions at Novartis ($NVS) plants in Nebraska and Canada led to shortages that have left an ugly trail of unhappy healthcare providers and consumers who sometimes have few alternatives.

Among those affected are veterinarians, some of whom tell Veterinary Information Network (VIN) that they have gone elsewhere for meds and may be loath to return. This sentiment has to be troubling for a company that is interested in animal health enough that it reportedly made a recent, but unsuccessful, $16 billion offer for Pfizer's ($PFE) animal health unit.

Novartis' animal care products include the usual flea treatments like Capstar. But they also include products like Deramaxx, a treatment for pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis in dogs, and Fortekor for treating heart failure in dogs and chronic renal insufficiency in cats.

"If they don't get going pretty soon, I don't see how we'll go back to Novartis products," Dr. Harold Beard tells VIN. The Little Rock, AR-area vet says he is frustrated by the backorders and lack of clarity from Novartis. "I lack a little trust in what's going on right now."

The backups started after Novartis closed its plant in Lincoln, NE, in December when the FDA cited it for a long list of manufacturing deficiencies. Besides over-the-counter drugs, the plant makes some animal health products. The situation was further complicated last month when Novartis' Sandoz division altered production at a plant in Boucherville, Quebec, while it addressed FDA concerns there. An alert from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association said the problems were affecting availability of 8 human drugs often used by vets, including morphine, diazepam and phenobarbital.

A Sandoz spokeswoman told the news service that it is unknown when that plant will resume full production. A Novartis spokeswoman was more apologetic saying, "We understand that this is a serious inconvenience, and we deeply regret the significant challenges the situation has created for veterinary practices and pet owners who rely on our products. As much as we would like to be able to provide a more specific (restart) date, there are still many production uncertainties to be managed."

But no production means no sales, and that has to be inconvenient for Novartis. The company lumps the animal health division with OTC, so it is not known what animal health products produce financially. Combined net sales in 2011 were about $4.6 million, the company said in a January SEC filing.

- read the VIN story
- here's the SEC filing