USA — Swiss pharma giant Novartis has sold five of its ophthalmic drugs to eye therapy company Harrow for a one-time payment of US$130 million, plus additional milestone payments of US$45 million.

The sale includes cataract surgery recovery eye drops Ilevro and Nevanac, bacterial conjunctivitis eyedrop Vigamox, inflammation eye drops Maxidex, and the injectable Triesence.

The deal will likely close during the first quarter of 2023. Afterward, Novartis will still own the products outside of the U.S.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Novartis was considering selling its ophthalmology and respiratory disease businesses, citing people familiar with the matter.

Those two sectors aren’t included in the five-core therapeutic areas that the company’s CEO, Vas Narasimhan, M.D., targeted for the company’s future.

According to Bloomberg, the value of the ophthalmology franchise was estimated to be around $US5 billion at the time.

If this move proceeds, it will come at a time when Novartis is making significant changes. Novartis has decided to spin off its generics division, Sandoz, into a separate company, which it plans to complete in the second half of next year.

Meanwhile, any action on the two units is unlikely to occur until the Sandoz spinout is completed next year.

The transactions were expected to take place next year, if at all, as the company completes its planned Sandoz separation.

This would not be the first time that Novartis has spun off something related to the eye. The pharma spun off its eye care unit Alcon into its own business in 2019, which Novartis originally paid US$770 million for.

Alcon has since charted its own course, even venturing into the dry eye market earlier this year.

If Novartis does sell these two units, it will be as part of a major restructuring that includes US$1 billion in cost cuts and the consolidation of the pharmaceutical and oncology units under one roof.

Novartis is shedding more non-core assets as another major spinoff is planned. Other major restructurings, in addition to the Sandoz separation, include an 8,000-person round of layoffs to streamline the business.

Novartis partners with Cancer Research UK for rare cancer trial

In other news, Novartis has become the second major pharmaceutical company to join Cancer Research UK in determining extended therapeutic indications for existing drugs in rare molecularly-defined indications using a national evaluation (DETERMINE) trial.

The trial, which began in November of this year, enrolled pediatric and adult patients with any rare cancer type, with the goal of evaluating multi-drug, precision medicine for rare cancers.

The study was launched by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development, the University of Manchester, and Roche.

Roche will continue to provide access to cancer treatments through the study, which is supported by sponsorship and management from the Centre for Drug Development and trial leadership from the University of Manchester.

The DETERMINE trial seeks to determine whether existing drugs, including those licensed for more common types of cancer, can benefit patients diagnosed with rare cancers for which the drug is not currently licensed.

Eligible patients will have undergone genetic testing and have one of the specific genetic mutations found in their cancer that can be targeted by a drug in the trial.

Cancer Research UK has encouraged other pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies with targeted oncology agents that have been licensed or are on the verge of being licensed to participate in the trial, which will allow them to evaluate their agent in rare indications not covered by their license.

With more companies involved, access to more patients with rare cancers will be expanded, giving them a better chance of finding a potentially beneficial treatment.

Any treatment that appears to benefit trial patients will be submitted to the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) for review.

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