December 9th

Novartis joins exodus from traditional R&D neuroscience drug work

Novartis ($NVS) is joining the global exodus from the field of traditional drug research for brain disorders. Nature reports that the pharma giant has set in motion plans to shut down its neuroscience division in Basel, Switzerland, signaling a fresh retreat as it joins GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) in abandoning some of its longstanding drug development efforts in the field.

Novartis isn’t dropping out of neuroscience entirely, though. The company plans to shift focus, turning to experts in Cambridge, MA who are studying the genetics of brain disorders and opening up a new division in the U.S. Novartis is reportedly negotiating with unions as it plans to shut the 80-person department in Basel next year while continuing the development of 5 drugs in the pipeline.

“Progress based on neurotransmitters has become small and incremental,” geneticist Mark Fishman, president of research for the Novartis Institutes of BioMedical Research, told Nature. “Genetic analysis will provide a real scientific opportunity in psychiatric and cognitive disorders, even if new drugs only arrive in the distant future.”

Novartis’s move leaves J&J ($JNJ) as one of the few Big Pharma companies to keep a big team at work. J&J’s Husseini Manji has been spearheading an effort to spur broad collaboration in the field in noncompetitive areas of research. Brain disorders include some of the toughest targets in the biopharma industry and most big players simply don’t like the odds of success right now.

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