Novartis Dissolves Its Cell Therapy Unit; 120 Positions Eliminated

Novartis AG said it will fold its specialized cell and gene therapies unit into other parts of the company, leading to about 120 job cuts months before seeking approval for a new type of cancer treatment.

Cell and gene therapy development will no longer be housed in a separate division, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said Wednesday. The change won’t affect a plan to apply for U.S. approval early next year for a type of cell therapy, called a CAR-T, for children with an aggressive form of blood cancer, Novartis said. The therapy, known as CTL019, will be submitted for European approval later next year.

“Novartis is committed to the ongoing development of CAR-T therapies and remains well positioned to successfully launch CTL019,” the company wrote in a statement.

The Swiss drugmaker, Europe’s second-largest by sales, in May said it would create separate units for cancer treatments and for other medicines following the acquisition of oncology assets from GlaxoSmithKline Plc. While an isolated cell-therapy unit worked well under the previous structure, work on such medicines will be more efficient with the reorganization, Novartis said. Most of the affected jobs are in the U.S.

“Today’s news on Novartis is really a pattern seen with other bigger pharmaceuticals companies such as Pfizer.” stated Karine Kleinhaus, M.D., M.P.H., is Divisional Vice President, North America at Pluristem Therapeutics., a clinical-stage biotechnology company using placental cells

“Big pharma has found that focusing on licensing deals with smaller, focused biotechnology companies is the better route as these biotechs have focused their businesses, making them nimble and able to deal effectively with every aspect of the discovery and development of new therapies, including the complex manufacturing needed to produce highly sensitive biologics. With big pharma cutting down on R&D teams, smaller mid and late-stage firms like Pluristem, can step in with completed early R&D and commercial-grade manufacturing, as well as late-stage clinical trials that are under way,” add Dr. Kleinhaus.

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