Novartis CEO Still ‘Optimistic’ About ThromboGenics Drug

Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Joe Jimenez said he remains optimistic about Belgian partner ThromboGenics NV’s eye medicine even after slower-than-expected sales of the drug.

“Eye care is a growth area for the next 10 years,” Jimenez said in a phone interview today, declining to comment on whether Novartis may bid for ThromboGenics, which said in February it’s studying strategic options. Sales of the product outside the U.S. through last year were “slightly” below expectations, “but you look at the efficacy of the drug and it’s very significant.”

ThromboGenics shares have gained about 22 percent since the Leuven, Belgium-based company said in February it hired Morgan Stanley to explore strategic options. Novartis is weighing an offer, people familiar with the situation said April 15. The drugmaker earlier today announced an overhaul of its business, after which it will focus on prescription drugs, the Sandoz generic-pharmaceuticals unit and the Alcon eye care operation.

“All you have to do is look at demographics and the aging population,” Jimenez said. “It’s going to be an area of increased demand well into the future, which is why we are building one of our three big pillars around eye-care.”

ThromboGenics shares climbed 1.9 percent to 22.80 euros in Brussels trading today, reversing an earlier decline. It’s the stock’s highest close since Sept. 16.

Possible Bidders?

Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, has rights outside the U.S. for Jetrea, the main product of ThromboGenics. Novartis is considered the most likely buyer given the drugmakers’ partnership, the people familiar with the situation said.

Other potential bidders include Shire Plc, Roche Holding AG, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., the people said, asking not to be identified because the process is private. The sale may value ThromboGenics at as much as $1.3 billion, one person said.

Jetrea is an injection to treat a vision-destroying condition called vitreomacular adhesion that was previously treated with surgery.

“Because this is a new treatment paradigm, where instead of doing surgery a physician would inject Jetrea, that’s quite a change in behavior by the physician,” Jimenez said. “So it’s taking longer than we expected, but we are still optimistic about the drug.”

Novartis, which is scheduled to present first-quarter results April 24, today said it agreed to buy GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s cancer-drug assets for as much as $16 billion, form a consumer-health venture with Glaxo and sell its animal-health operation to Eli Lilly & Co. for $5.4 billion.

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