Drug giant Novartis is going after a $5 billion eye-drug market

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Novartis on Friday showed that its drug,
brolucizumab, worked as well as an existing drug that’s used
to treat age-related macular degeneration. 

Novartis is gearing up to shake up a huge eye-drug
market. 

In data presented Friday at the American Academy of Ophthalmology
annual
conference, Novartis’ drug brolucizumab showed that it wasn’t
any worse than Eylea, an existing drug to treat a condition
called age-related macular degeneration. Novartis’ drug was
also better at reducing retinal thickness and retinal fluid
compared to Eylea, two key factors that are key in reducing the
affects of the disease. 

Age-related macular degeneration is a disease that’s a leading
cause of vision loss in the US in people over 50, according to
the National Eye Institute. It affects more than 2 million Americans,
blurring their vision and making it harder to drive, read,
and recognize faces.

If approved, brolucizumab would go up against
Eylea and Lucentis, two treatments for AMD that make a combined
$4.7 billion in sales a year. The drugs are all injected into the
eye. Novartis’ drug would be given once every three months, while
Eylea is injected once every eight weeks. 

Vas Narasimhan, the incoming CEO of Novartis
and the current global head of drug development and chief medical
officer, told Business Insider that it’s the second two
conclusions — regarding the reduction in retinal thickness and
retinal fluid — that are the most exciting. In comparison to the
patients who got Eylea, brolucizumab reduced that
retinal fluid by more than 30%. 

“We only have major advances in retinal disease every so
often,” Narasimhan told Business
Insider. 

Novartis has a long history
of treating eye conditions, though lately it’s been better known
for its
work in cancer. Narasimhan said the development of
brolucizumab is part of the 
“next chapter of
innovation at the company” for eye conditions. 

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