Novartis to seek speedy approval for Covid drug after positive trials

In lab tests the drug maintained its antiviral activity against all variants of concern

Novartis will seek expedited approval for its Covid-19 drug, developed with biotech group Molecular Partners, after strong results from an early-stage trial showed it could help to treat the disease.

Ensovibep, an antiviral therapeutic, reduced the risk of emergency room visits, hospitalisation, or death by 78 per cent in a phase-two trial, compared with a placebo. A single intravenous infusion of the drug cut viral load over eight days.

Shares in Novartis ticked 0.5 per cent higher, while Molecular Partners surged more than a third. Both companies are listed in Switzerland.

In lab tests, the drug maintained its antiviral activity against all variants of concern, including the Omicron strain. It was safe at all dosages tested.

Novartis will exercise an option to license the drug from Molecular Partners, paying 150 million Swiss francs (€144 million), taking over responsibility for development, manufacturing and commercialisation.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis chief executive, said it had the "potential to be an important new treatment option to combat the rapidly evolving Sars-Cov-2 pandemic".

Novartis has not been a main player in the Covid field, though it has helped to manufacture mRNA vaccines, through a partnership with BioNTech and Pfizer.

New antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck have reported positive results in recent months, but both have potential drawbacks that mean they should not be taken by some people.

Ensovibep is harder to deliver than an oral antiviral, however, and is more comparable to an antibody treatment because it is an infusion. Intravenous drugs have been put to good use during the pandemic but they need to be administered in a timely fashion and under medical supervision. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022