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CEO of Novartis pinning hopes on malaria drug

30.03.2020

In the fight against the coronavirus, Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, is above all pinning his hopes on a malaria drug. Narasimhan has claimed in an interview that this drug has proven in preclinical and initial clinical trials that it can destroy the virus. At the moment, patients are being enrolled for studies.

Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis (img: Novartis)

In the opinion of Vas Narasimhan, the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic may have reached its peak in Spain and Italy, but will spread further in the USA. Now it is time to prepare for the next wave. The CEO of Basel-based Novartis is above all pinning his hopes on hydroxychloroquin, a drug used to treat malaria, which the company are focusing their work on.

“Preclinical trials in animals as well as initial data from clinical trials have shown that it destroys the coronavirus”, Narasimhan states in an interview with SonntagsZeitung. “We are working together with Swiss hospitals to check potential treatment protocols for clinical application, but it’s too early to offer anything definitive in this regard yet”, he adds. At the moment, the first patients are being recruited for enrolment in studies. Moreover, Novartis is in dialog with the regulatory authorities in Switzerland and the USA in order to obtain authorization by way of summary proceedings.

Novartis has at its disposal the raw material for 130 million doses. Export bans in India could, however, be an obstacle to production, Narasimhan explains. “Our plant in Stein AG would be the worst hit by export bans, as it currently procures raw materials on a global basis”. The pharma industry is reliant on the free flow of goods, with no country fully self-sufficient in this regard.

Together with 15 pharmaceutical firms from around the world in total, Novartis has committed its expertise to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. To this end, the group of pharma firms are to open up their proprietary libraries of molecular compounds to in the joint search for candidates to combat the virus.

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