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Novartis CEO makes mark with $8.7bn AveXis acquisition

Published on 09/04/18 at 09:11am

Vas Narasimhan’s first few moves as CEO of Novartis indicate that he is not afraid to take bold risks in order to shape the future of the company. His latest, the $8.7 billion acquisition of gene therapy biotech, AveXis, is certainly the largest so far and indicates that Novartis is eyeing the gene therapy area as the next big development in the pharma industry.

Predecessor, Joe Jimenez, had shied away from making large splashes in acquisitions but Narasimhan is clearly open to loosening the purse strings to acquire what could be a market leading therapy.

AveXis lead therapy is AVXS-101, a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), that posted strong results in Phase 1 clinical trials.

The release of the results in November 2017 showed that patients receiving a one-time dose of AVXS-101 were alive and event-free at 20 months of age in the 15 patients who received the dose.

SMA is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality and those who have SMA type 1 have a life expectancy of less than 18 months.

The fact that Novartis was prepared to pay an 88% premium on the share price of AveXis suggests that the pharma giant expects the lead candidate to go onto become a blockbuster.

However, it should be noted that GSK’s buyout of Novartis from their joint healthcare venture for $13 billion has afforded Narasimhan some wiggle room to make this kind of deal – with cash left over to look at adding further prospects to the portfolio.

Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, said: “The proposed acquisition of AveXis offers an extraordinary opportunity to transform the care of SMA. We believe AVXS-101 could create a lifetime of possibilities for the children and families impacted by this devastating condition. The acquisition would also accelerate our strategy to pursue high-efficacy, first-in-class therapies and broaden our leadership in neuroscience. We would gain with the team at AveXis another gene therapy platform, in addition to our CAR-T platform for cancer, to advance a growing pipeline of gene therapies across therapeutic areas. We look forward on the closing of the deal to a smooth transition for AveXis employees and welcoming them to Novartis.”

Novartis noted that a BLA filing is expected in the second half of 2018 and predicts a launch of the product in the US during 2019.

In addition to the lead candidate, Novartis was careful to note that acquiring the biotech also allows the company access to AAV9 gene therapy manufacturing capabilities, as well as further R&D technology that includes other pipeline products, including a treatment for Rett Syndrome.

Adding this gene therapy biotech to its portfolio means that it will be able to sit alongside its CAR T treatment, Kymriah, and the licensing agreement that gave Novartis the rights to Spark Therapeutics blindness gene therapy, Luxturna, in ex-US territories.

Ben Hargreaves

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