Alcon Laboratories pharmaceutical products have been moved into the Novartis Pharmaceutical Division. The switch means a sharper focus on research and development in ophthalmology as well as better access to Norvartis’ patient services and support capabilities.
“The idea was to leverage the more than 70 legacy brands and expertise within Alcon with additional investment and support from Novartis,” said Melissa Liew, MD, vice president, U.S. medical head, ophthalmology. “There are still unmet needs in ophthalmology and hundreds of millions of people living with vision loss, 80% of which could be treated, cured, or prevented. Especially in the area of glaucoma, people are still going blind who could be treated.”
Dr. Liew explored the new face of Novartis Alcon Pharmaceuticals, East Hanover, NJ, during an Industry Spotlight session at the New Horizons Forum, held in conjunction with the 2017 Glaucoma 360 meeting. There are no immediate product announcements, but the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) is focusing on ophthalmology.
NIBR has more than 6,000 researchers, physicians, and support staff at multiple facilities in the United States, Switzerland, and China.
“Ophthalmology is fully embedded into the global NIBR network,” Dr. Liew explained. “There are more than 275 researchers working in ophthalmology in research and translational medicine. They are working on small molecules, biologics, stem cell therapies, gene therapy, and rare ophthalmic diseases. Novartis is fully committed to ophthalmology.”
The company is developing effective therapies to meet the needs of ophthalmology, Dr. Liew added. Major areas in the ophthalmology pipeline include glaucoma, geography atrophy, dry eye, and ocular inflammation. The goal is to build a complete portfolio for the front and the back of the eye to make a difference for patients.
“In 2015, we invested $9.8 billion in research and development,” Dr. Liew said. “These efforts resulted in nine major submissions and 19 new product approvals in major markets around the world.
Dr. Liew outlined that Novartis Alcon’s future treatments in glaucoma will focus around developing therapies that bring value to patients, medicines that ease the burden of treatment and compliance, and provide increased efficacy.
There is also a concerted effort to boost innovation in the fixed-dose combination portfolio. Dr. Liew said there will be an acceleration in pipeline development and an increase in projects with external partners.
Novartis also will continue its development through acquisition. The recent boost in the ophthalmology pipeline came in late 2016 with the addition of Encore Vision, Fort Worth, TX. Encore is developing a first-in-class, disease-modifying topical treatment for presbyopia.
Encore researchers found that excessive disulphide bond formation may lead to a loss of lens flexibility. Oxidation can induce disulphide bonds between crystalline proteins, resulting in lens stiffening and compromised accommodation.
Phase I and phase II clinical trials of a solution containing lipoic acid choline ester drops twice daily found a gain of at least 10 letters from Day 1 to Day 91 in distance-corrected near visual acuity in the non-dominant eye as well as in bilateral vision on more than half of subjects.
“Presbyopia is a new area for us,” Dr. Liew said. “If successful, this has the potential to touch hundreds of millions of lives. The Encore acquisition underlines our strong commitment to ophthalmology and to innovation in new therapeutic areas.”
Patients at core
Patients remain the backbone of every Novartis Alcon project, Dr. Liew continued. A formal Patient Declaration explicitly lays out the company’s commitment to patients–from improving access to taking the patient perspective in the planning and execution of research and development.
“The patient perspective guides everything we do, from the types of drugs we develop to taking patient needs and preferences into consideration in designing clinical trials and in designing more effective ways of informing them of trial results,” Dr. Liew pointed out. “Novartis has collaborated with more than 800 patient organizations and we are looking forward to listening to your ideas in the area of glaucoma.”