Novartis chairman to step down as profits rise

Basel-based pharmaceutical group Novartis reported on Wednesday a net profit of $9.6 billion for 2012, up four percent from the previous year, but posted slightly lower sales amid stronger competition from generic drugs.

Novartis chairman to step down as profits rise
Novartis Chairman Daniel Vassella, pictured here at a past World Economic Forum event, is stepping down next month. Photo: Remy Steinegger

The company, which also announced that its chairman of 17 years, Daniel Vasella, was leaving, said in a statement it had achieved net sales of $56.7 billion.
That was a three percent drop from 2011, but still narrowly beat the expectations of analysts polled by the AWP financial agency, who anticipated sales of $56.5 billion.

Novartis's important Pharma division, meanwhile, saw sales slip one percent to $32.1 billion dollars amid swelling competition from generic drugs.

The price of shares in Novartis surged by 2.5 percent to 61.60 francs a share in morning trading on a Swiss stock exchange up 0.66 percent.

Like the rest of the pharmaceutical industry, the company has also had to deal with growing pricing pressure at a time when crisis-hit countries are increasingly being forced to slash health expenditures.

Company chief executive Joseph Jimenez meanwhile insisted that "Novartis maintained strong momentum in innovation in 2012," pointing out that the Basel-based company had secured 17 major approvals in 2012.

"Our pipeline is expected to deliver a record number of near-term approvals and filings, and . . . we anticipate 14 products to reach blockbuster status by 2017, up from eight in 2012," he said.

For 2013, Novartis said it expected to see sales in line with last year in constant currencies, despite an impact of up to $3.5 billion from generic competition.

Novartis also announced that chairman Vasella had decided not to stand for re-election at the next annual meeting, on February 22nd.

Dr. Joerg Reinhardt, who currently heads Bayer HealthCare, has been put forward for the job, Novartis said, adding that he would take over on August 1st, and that vice-chairman Ulrich Lehner would lead the board in the interim.

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Switzerland’s Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis said Friday it had signed an initial agreement to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, as countries scramble to boost supplies.

Switzerland's Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine
Novartis will help manufacture Pfizer vaccine. Photo by AFP.

The rare act of cooperation — in an industry usually marked by cut-throat competition — comes after French pharma group Sanofi announced earlier this week that it would also team up with rivals Pfizer and BioNTech to help produce 125 million doses of their jab.

The two-dose vaccine, which is based on mRNA technology, has been shown to be around 95 percent effective and has been approved for use by the World Health Organization and in some 50 countries.

But it is in limited supply as nations around the world race to immunise their populations against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 2.2 million people in just over a year.

Novartis said in a statement that it would use its sterilised manufacturing facilities at its site in Stein, Switzerland to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

Under the agreement, the company said it would “take bulk mRNA active ingredient from BioNTech and fill this into vials under aseptic conditions for shipment back to BioNTech for their distribution to healthcare system customers around the world”.

Once a final agreement is reached, Novartis said it expected to begin production in the second quarter of the year, with initial shipment of finished product expected in the third quarter.

Steffen Lang, Head of Novartis Technical Operations, stressed that the company was “committed to leverage our manufacturing capabilities to help support the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world”.

“We expect this to be the first of a number of such agreements,” he said in the statement.

Novartis said it was already in “advanced discussions” with a number of other companies about with other production tasks, including of mRNA, therapeutic protein and raw material production for Covid vaccines and therapeutics.