Novartis’ gene therapy beats sales estimates but held up by manufacturing questions

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Wildpixel)
(Image: Getty/Wildpixel)

Related tags Novartis Zolgensma AveXis Gene therapy

Novartis announces its third quarter results that show Zolgensma is outperforming sales expectations, but company notes approval in EU and Japan pushed back over manufacturing queries.

During the third-quarter financial call, Vasant Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, noted that questions from European and Japanese regulators regarding chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) were behind expected decision dates on Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec) being pushed back into 2020.

At present, the company expects to receive opinions from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Japanese Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) in the first quarter and the first half of 2020, respectively.

Narasimhan revealed few other details regarding the questions, only that there were an ‘extensive set of questions’ with respect to manufacturing, to which it had submitted responses. Reuters stated that he also confirmed that the decision delay was not due to the revelation of data manipulation in August​.

Despite the setback on potential approval date, the company was able to confirm that the product had achieved US sales of $160m (€143m), arriving higher than analyst predictions of $98m​ (€88m).

When questioned on the patient numbers this related to, on paid programs, Narasimhan confirmed that approximately 100 patients had been treated – though other patients had received the gene therapy through treatment in clinical trials.

Once approved in elsewhere in the world, Narasimhan predicted such number could increase rapidly: “I think in some countries in Europe, as well in the Middle East, there could be very strong demand coming very quickly after approval.”

He cited ‘pent-up demand’ as a reason that sales would increase quickly, and also pointed to early access programs being made available in France, Portugal and Germany as another positive long-term sign for the product.

The company will need to see substantial return on the product, after investing $8.7bn in the AveXis acquisition​ to gain access to the technology.

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