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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 19, 2012

The Novartis Pipeline

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Posted by Derek

This would seem to be inviting the wrath of the Drug Development Gods, and man, are they a testy bunch: "Novartis could produce 14 or more new big-selling 'blockbuster' drugs within five years . . ."

I'll certainly wish them luck on that, and it certainly seems true that Novartis research has been productive. But think back - how many press releases have you seen over the years where Drug Company A predicts X number of big product launches in the next Y years? And how many of those schedules have ever quite worked out? The most egregious examples of this take the form of claiming that your new strategy/platform/native genius/good looks have now allowed you to deliver these things on some sort of regular schedule. When you hear someone talking about how even though they haven't been able to do anything like it in the past, they're going to start unleashing a great new drug product launch every year (or every 18 months, what have you) from here on out, run.

Now, Novartis isn't talking like this, and they have a much better chance of delivering on this than most, but still. Might it not be better just to creep up on people with all those great new products in hand, rather than risk disappointment?

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Development


1. Rick Wobbe on November 19, 2012 9:35 AM writes...

The Egg: Money

The Chicken: A story that will persuade "investors" and their analysts to give you money.

Maybe real science fits in there somewhere, but sometimes it doesn't seem that way. After all, you need the money to do the real science too...

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2. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on November 19, 2012 10:15 AM writes...

The market doesn't put much stock (no pun intended) into such predictions. Novartis' stock price is basically flat over the past year, down about 9% over the past month, and barely moved the day this article was published. Investors have seen these rosy scenario predictions before too, and know to take them with a grain of salt.

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3. Bernard Munos on November 19, 2012 11:26 AM writes...

I have a lot of respect for Novartis, but, like you, I cringed when I read the comment promising 14+ blockbusters by 2017. That was imprudent. It would have been safer to talk about 14+ breakthroughs by 2017, and I think Wall Street would have bought it just the same. Mr Jimenez, an economist by training, should know that, in the field of blockbuster economics, predictions are impossible, which is what makes this industry so interesting. Novartis' past experience at forecasting -- Gleevec was supposed to peak at $50 million -- should have made him more cautious.

This reminds me of a story back in October 2010 when Lilly was confidently predicting that its "bulging pipeline will produce two new drugs per year, beginning in 2013". It went even as far as disclosing it was preparing a statistical analysis "to prove that two new drugs a year is not only a prediction but a probability". There are lots of talented people at Lilly, but they are neither in its forecasting group, nor in the senior management that spouted such nonsense.

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4. manmeram on November 19, 2012 11:29 AM writes...

Interesting. For most cos 14 approvals in next five years will be a creditable thing. So 14 blockbusters in this time really sounds curious!

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5. Anonymous on November 19, 2012 4:14 PM writes...

This is a bad sign of management not understanding how research works and giving lip service to investors.

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6. Anonymous on November 19, 2012 7:57 PM writes...

And " it certainly seems true that Novartis research has been productive"- just curious, what exactly has Cambridge been producing?

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7. Quintus on November 19, 2012 10:56 PM writes...

@5 You got it right on the nose.

@6 What they produce in Cambridge is zebra fish.

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8. Anonymous on November 20, 2012 12:27 AM writes...

Press releases like these are made by MBAs for MBAs....,in other words, people who don't understand drug discovery and development.

Your coverage only gives them credibility. Best ignored.

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9. simpl on November 20, 2012 8:47 AM writes...

The statement is standard investor feed. There is a public list of molecules,11 planned to register somewhere by 2015 -
The main confusion appears to be that they intend to have 14 brands >1 bio $. They have most already this year, so we are talking about molecules already launched, not new-to-market blockbuster ones.

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10. Biochem on November 20, 2012 8:19 PM writes...

The key problem with predictions like this is the unpredictability of phase III. The drug(s) could work like a charm and still be killed in phase III due to some weird side effect that shows up in 1/1000 people.

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