Although it's based in neutral Switzerland, Novartis has been aggressive in attacking illnesses on multiple fronts, including pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and consumer health. Its largest division, Pharmaceuticals, develops and manufactures prescription drugs for blood pressure, cancer, and other ailments. Subsidiary Sandoz produces generic drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Its Alcon division makes ophthalmic drugs, surgery systems, and contact lenses. Novartis has divested its vaccines and consumer health (Excedrin, Theraflu, and other products) divisions. Signaling the growing importance of its cancer operations, Novartis plans to separate its oncology and pharmaceuticals units.
The Pharmaceuticals division researches, develops, manufactures, distributes, and sells patented prescription medications in such categories as oncology, cardio-metabolic, immunology and dermatology, retina, respiratory, and neuroscience. In 2014 the division created a unit focusing on developing and commercializing cell and gene therapies. That year, the division accounted for more than 60% of total net sales.
Novartis' blockbusters include high blood pressure treatment Diovan, leukemia drug Gleevec/Glivec, age-related macular degeneration drug Lucentis, and Zometa, an intravenous treatment for bone tumors caused by prostate, lung, and breast cancers. Other strong products include hormone balancing drug Sandostatin, Exelon for Alzheimer's disease, and Femara, which is used to treat postmenopausal women with early and advanced breast cancer.
The Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research has more than 6,000 scientists and physicians and focuses on discovering new drugs.
The company's Sandoz and Alcon units each account for approximately 20% of sales. Sandoz is currently among the largest manufacturers of generic drugs in the world, while Alcon is a leader in cataract and vision correction surgical equipment.
Novartis has operations in 180 countries around the world, including sales, administrative, research, and manufacturing locations. The US is the company's largest geographic market, accounting for about one-third of revenues, followed by Japan, Germany, and France (each accounting for less than 10% of sales). Emerging markets represented 26% of net sales in 2014.
Sales and Marketing
The company utilizes more than 1,900 field representatives in the US and another 20,600 in the rest of the world; they sell its Pharmaceutical division's products to doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, insurance providers, and managed care organizations. In the US, some products are advertised on television and in print ads.
Novartis' Alcon division serves physicians, distributors, wholesalers, hospitals, government agencies, and large retailers; its surgical products are sold directly to hospitals and surgical centers in the US, and through distributors in certain international markets.
Sandoz sells its generics to wholesalers, pharmacies, hospitals, and other health care outlets.
Novartis has seen fluctuating revenues over the past five years. Like most large drugmakers, it faces increasing pressure to keep its operations lean and develop new blockbusters in the face of patent expiration and rising levels of generic competition. Several of the company's former best sellers, including Famvir (antiviral), Lotrel (high blood pressure), and Trileptal (epilepsy treatment), are experiencing dwindling sales due to launches of generic versions in recent years. The company is especially hurting as top seller Diovan, which previously accounted for more than $6 billion in sales (or 20% of the firm's annual pharmaceutical revenues), lost patent protection in the US market in 2012 and in Europe in 2011.
In 2014 revenue fell 9% to $53.6 billion as the Pharmaceuticals division declined; this was primarily as a result of the introduction of a generic version of Diovan in most markets, including the US, Europe, and Japan. The company's divestiture of its vaccines segment also led to decreased sales.
Although revenue fell in 2014, net income rose 11% to $10.2 billion, largely due to sales of shares of LTS Lohmann Therapie-Systeme in Germany and its stake in Idenix Pharmaceuticals in the US. The higher net income led to an increase in cash flow from operations, which rose 5% to $13.9 billion.
To ward off competitive pressures and support its prescription drug business, Novartis maintains a healthy drug pipeline with about 140 candidates in clinical development stages. Novartis relies upon a steady regimen of internal development, partnerships, and acquisitions to keep its pipeline up and running. R&D programs are focused on core therapeutic areas including cardiology, metabolism, oncology, neurology, respiratory, ophthalmic, and infectious disease. The company is especially focused on increasing its development of biologic (protein and gene-based) drugs.
Also as part of its strategy to stay competitive, the company evaluates possible strategic acquisitions to expand its existing businesses, as well as possible divestitures, such as the recent sales of its consumer health and vaccine units. In early 2015 Novartis sold its animal health division to Eli Lilly for $5.4 billion. It also merged its over-the-counter business into a joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline's consumer health care business; it retained a 36.5% stake in the combined business.
Though the Alcon and Sandoz units are smaller than the core pharmaceuticals business, Novartis maintains strong acquisition and internal research programs in those divisions as well. For instance, to further its goals in personalized medicine, Novartis is working to develop more sensitive molecular diagnostics that can be used to monitor patients and determine which medicines will most effectively treat their ailments. In 2014 Sandoz launched 28 new products in the US, including generic versions of Diovan, Focalin XR, and TOBI.
The company also partners with other pharmaceutical firms to keep its portfolio robust. In 2014 it struck up a collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb to evaluate three compounds related to Bristol-Myers Squibb's trial treatment for lung cancer. The following year, Novartis entered into a multi-year alliance with Aduro Biotech to discover and develop cancer immunotherapies. Further strengthening its immuno-oncology pipeline, Novartis then announced licensing agreements with Palobiofarma and XOMA Corporation.
After swapping its vaccine business in exchange for GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK's) oncology unit in 2015, Novartis has been increasingly focused on its cancer operations. In 2016 it announced a major restructuring: It plans to split its oncology and pharmaceutical businesses to create Novartis Oncology and Novartis Pharmaceuticals. The heads of the units will report directly to Novartis' CEO.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In late 2016 Novartis bought Selexys Pharmaceuticals, a research lab specializing in sickle cell disease, in a deal valued at up to €665 million.
In 2015 the company purchased GSK's oncology unit. At the same time, it sold its vaccine business to GSK for about $7 billion and the two combined their consumer products. The deal brings Tafinlar and Mekinist, two recently approved skin cancer drugs, into the Novartis camp. Annual revenue will drop slightly but profits will rise as it picks up higher-margin products.
Further boosting its oncology pipeline, Novartis agreed to buy Admune Therapeutics in 2015. Admune has a program in phase I clinical trials for the treatment of metastatic cancer.
Novartis in 2014 acquired CoStim Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for $248 million. CoStim is a biotechnology firm focused on cancer immunotherapy; the acquisition adds its portfolio of late discovery stage immunotherapy programs including PD-1. Also that year, Alcon acquired WaveTec Vision, which developed the first commercialized intr-operative guidance system for cataract surgeries, for $350 million.