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Japanese university to retract Novartis study

A Japanese university is to retract a study that touted the effectiveness of a blood pressure drug made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis because it was based on fabricated data.

Japanese university to retract Novartis study
Photo: Novartis

The move was the latest chapter in a growing scandal over allegations that bogus data were used in a string of Japanese university studies for the drug Valsartan which exaggerated its effectiveness in preventing strokes and angina.

On Wednesday, Tokyo's Jikei University School of Medicine said it would retract research that appeared in respected medical journal The Lancet six years ago.

"We will report the conclusions of our investigation to Lancet so the study can be withdrawn," a university spokesman told AFP.

The school's probe concluded that the research, led by one of Jikei's professors, relied on data analysis by an unnamed former Novartis employee, who was also involved in at least one other school's research which has been thrown into question.

The fresh allegations come less than two weeks after Japan's health minister said it was very likely that tests for Valsartan were based on incomplete clinical data.

Jikei University's probe also found it had received about $85,000 worth of grants from Novartis for the study, pointing to a conflict of interest, it said.

The local unit of Novartis could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

On Monday, Yoshiyasu Ninomiya, head of the Swiss firm's Japanese unit, apologised for the involvement of an employee in university studies.

But he stood by other tests that said Valsartan is effective at preventing strokes and angina, as well as controlling high blood pressure.

Novartis sells the drug under the name Diovan in Japan, where it is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market. It is licensed for use in more than 100 countries.

Three other Japanese universities are investigating similar claims, local media reported.

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NOVARTIS

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. 

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