EU approves Novartis mega deals with GSK

The European Union on Wednesday approved mega deals involving drugmakers Novartis of Switzerland and GlaxoSmithKline of Britain, provided they sell off assets in the vaccines and consumer health businesses.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, approved GSK's acquisition of Novartis's global human vaccines business as well as a tie-up of their global consumer health business under GSK control, it said in a statement.
These were announced as part of a series of multi-billion euro pharmaceutical industry deals last April.
The commission had feared that the transactions, as initially planned, would undermine competition in vaccines against meningitis and diphtheria as well as in a range of consumer health products to stop smoking and to treat cold sores, cold and influenza.
To tackle the commission's concerns, GSK pledged to "grant a worldwide, exclusive, perpetual licence of GSK's Nimenrix vaccine for bacterial meningitis and divest GSK's Mencevax vaccine for bacterial meningitis worldwide," the commission said.
GSK also pledged to conclude supply, distribution and transfer agreements for Novartis's vaccines against diphtheria and tetanus, it said.
The commission also approved Novartis's plans to acquire part of GSK's oncology, or cancer treatment, business portfolio.
It said "the decision is conditional upon the divestment of two of Novartis's" treatments for skin cancer: LGX818 and MEK162.
"The Commission had concerns that the transaction would have reduced competition and innovation for these products," it said.
The purchase by Novartis of GSK's oncology business was for $16 billion (14.1 billion euros) in cash, including $1.5 billion that would depend on future performance.
GSK's purchase of Novartis's vaccines was for up to $7.1 billion, also in cash.

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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.