Novartis offering COVID-19 capacity but won’t play in vaccine space

Novartis has no plans to join its Big Pharma peers in developing a coronavirus vaccine but says it will continue supporting efforts to tackle the virus.

Developing a vaccine is deemed key in the global fight against the novel coronavirus. As such, industry has mobilized to speed development efforts through the clinic, with numerous Big Pharma firms jumping on board.

AstraZeneca is racing away in bringing its Oxford vaccine to fruition. J&J is pushing forwards with its adenovector-based vaccine. Pfizer teamed with BioNTech for an mRNA vaccine. Sanofi has an mRNA and a recombinant program in development – the latter in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.

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(The World Health Organization’s (WHO) full list of COVID-19 vacines in development can be found here.)

But Swiss giant Novartis will not be following its competitors by subscribing up to the ‘vax-pack’, the firm said during its second quarter 2020 call, though it will remain fully engaged in its response against COVID-19.

“Our goal in COVID is focused on therapeutics,” CEO Vas Narasimhan. “We have two pivotal studies; we have over 20 IITs [Investigator Initiated Trials], over 30 IITs I should say of our existing medicine. We have a novel Drug Discovery Program targeting two different targets to try to find a pan-Coronavirus medicine and we hope to get those hopefully into the clinic next year if things go according to plan.”

Capacity donation

However, Novartis has supported – and will continue supporting – COVID-19 vaccine developers, Narasimhan confirmed, having already offered up some of its manufacturing capacity to support a project in development by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital. The arrangement, announced in May, saw Novartis through its gene therapy business AveXis contribute adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector technology and dedicated manufacturing space at a facility run by its CDMO Catalent to the project.

“Overall, our goal was to support a novel vaccine development using AAV technology. We are going to produce the preclinical lots but we are not that key manufacturer,” said Narasimhan.

“Our focus is very much on medicines, not on vaccines, but we’re very willing to use our manufacturing capacity to support the development of any candidate vaccines for COVID.”

Other areas of coronavirus support by Novartis include a recent announcement by its generics and biosimilar division Sandoz that the firm will provide a portfolio of 15 generic and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines at zero profit to address urgent unmet needs of low- and lower-middle-income countries to treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

The firm has also spearheaded a collaborative effort to make direct-acting anti-viral compounds to the coronavirus family, and contributed over $40 million to support local communities affected by COVID-19.

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