Swiss Drugmakers Roche And Novartis Target Same Diseases, Increasing Rivalry

Clear signs of increasing rivalry between the two top Swiss drug makers Roche and Novartis became evident earlier this week when both the companies made public their respective data on treatments that showed how the two rival companies are aiming to win sales from each other in the area of eye diseases and multiple sclerosis.

Over the years, the two drug makers that are based on opposing banks of the Rhine in Basel, have rivaled each other while also cooperating with each other. However, despite that historical nature of the relationship between the two companies, the latest data and their latest products show that the two firms are set to get into a more direct competition.

Roche is trying to set its eyes on markets in addition to the cancer drugs and towards fresh treatment areas according to the plans of the drug maker’s Chief Executive Severin Schwan. On the other hand, similar area of importance have been chalked out by Novartis CEO Vas Narashiman.

The new port delivery system (PDS) developed by Roche, that just needs refills of a customised version of eye drug Lucentis for just two times in a year, was as good as the monthly injections that are used against blindness-causing mascular degeneration, the company said. This is also the market segment that is being targeted by Novartis through its new medicine Beovu.

On the other hand, its ofatumumab, its injectible leukaemia drug also known as Arzerra, had exhibited very encouraging results in relapsing multiple sclerosis, Novartis said. That treatment is a very evident rival of the blockbuster medicine Ocrevus of Roche that generates $4 billion in revenues for the every year.

Despite the apparent direct rivalry between the two companies, 33 per cent voting rights Roche is still owned by Novartis with a share value of about $18 billion. This is an outcome of a failed merger bid between the two companies that was initiated about two decades ago. The stake of Novartis in its rival means that dividend payouts are got by it from its rival.

A new option for patients that are not very enthusiastic of frequent, direct-in-the-eye injections with its PDS, is being offered by Roche. PDS is a refillable reservoir that is surgically inserted.

That is similar to one of the major selling points of a drug by Novartis that was launched last year called Beovu.

“We estimate $4 billion peak sales for the port,” ZuercherKantonalbank analyst Michael Nawrath said, calling the Roche device’s potential “underestimated”.

Those patients of the company who were used to taking once-monthly, at-home injections may appeal to MS patients now wary of exposure to the coronavirus during clinic trips, said Novartis drugs division head Marie-France Tschudin, with the company’s immune system-targeting ofatumumab. Twice-yearly to clinics is required for for Roche’s Ocrevus infusions.

Novartis expects to get US approval for ofatumumab in June. Roche hopes its PDS gets approval “as soon as possible”.

(Adapted from


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