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August 31, 2016

Novartis Eliminates Cell & Gene Therapies Unit, Restates CAR T-Cell Commitment

  • Novartis confirmed today it will eliminate its Cell & Gene Therapies Unit by integrating its operations into the broader organization.

    The reintegration will affect approximately 120 positions, most of which will be reassigned within the company, Novartis said.

    “Most associates who were previously dedicated to cell & gene therapies will now be redeployed to areas where they will share their knowledge and improve execution of novel therapeutics in the immunotherapy space to better deliver on our mission to improve and extend people’s lives,” Novartis said in a statement to GEN and other news organizations.

    Novartis insists the reorganization will not hinder its current gene therapy work—notably its ongoing exclusive global collaboration with researchers at the University of Penn to develop chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Novartis is among leading companies in CAR T-cell development, along with Juno Therapeutics and Kite Pharma.

    “An isolated Unit worked well under our prior Pharma Division structure, but with a new integrated development model, we can efficiently advance our work on CAR-T as part of our focus in immuno-oncology by reintegrating the functions,” the company added.

    Earlier this year, Novartis and Penn cut a ceremonial ribbon to formally open the Novartis–Penn Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics at Penn’s campus, focused on expanding research into CAR T-cell technology.

    The organizational change, according to Novartis, will not impact its plan to file for approvals to market CTL019 in pediatric relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (r/r ALL) with the FDA early next year, and with the European Medicines Agency later in 2017.

    “We continue to work with Penn under the terms of our agreement,” Novartis added. “Novartis is committed to the ongoing development of CAR-T therapies and remains well positioned to successfully launch CTL019 in pediatric r/r ALL patients.”

    In June, Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez trumpeted the company’s “growing immuno-oncology portfolio including our CAR-T technology” within the company’s oncology specialty, which he said consists of 30 new molecules in development.

    That portfolio, Jimenez said, will be the subject of 26 immuno-oncology studies by year’s end, of which six are potentially first-in-class as monotherapies and 11 are combination therapies.

    Just last year, Novartis touted the benefits of a dedicated Cell & Gene Therapies Unit on its website: “The reason for doing this is to create a simplified and streamlined infrastructure and decision-making process. It’s a biotech-y type of phenotype we’re looking for as opposed to a cookie-cutter pharma person,” Chief Scientific Officer Michael Perry was quoted as saying.

    “A science and medical background remain key for employees, but so too are entrepreneurial skills, learning agility, business savvy, and the willingness to take measured risk,” Novartis added.

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