Novartis , the world's biggest pharmaceutical (big pharma) company, recently increased its interest in Israel to sign pharma deals. For a long time, the company was active in marketing and clinical trials in Israel, and now it is involved in investment as well.
Over the past year, Novartis has invested $35 million in Israel’sGamida Cell, with an option to acquire it in the future for $165 million, plus royalties, by mid-2016. Novartis also signed a deal with BiolineRX Ltd. (Nasdaq: BLRX); TASE:BLRX), under which BioLineRx will seek and develop Israeli technologies for Novartis. This is a double vote of confidence in the Israeli market: Novartis both recognizes that there is sufficient technology here to justify seeking it, and also believes that Israel’s BioLineRx is suitable for developing these technologies in early stages.
The person directing Novartis’s general strategy is David Epstein, who has served as Novartis Pharmaceuticals Division Head since 2010, directly under Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. In effect, Epstein’s activity will in one way or another affect the health of us all, and also Novartis’s access to Israel.
Epstein is an oncologist, and his appointment to lead the pharmaceutical division indicates the company’s growing focus on cancer treatment. During his tenure, the Novartis pharmaceuticals division has taken some important steps, such as acquiring personalized medicine competency, significantly reducing manpower, including in development, and selling its vaccine activity to GSK, while acquiring GSK’s cancer activity, in one of the most creative deals in the pharmaceutical industry.
The Novartis pharmaceuticals division under Epstein is today, according to the company, a focused division, with a promising product pipeline, open access to partnerships, and an appetite for acquisitions, but not for mega-mergers.
"Globes" spoke with Epstein about Novartos's investments in Israel.
Novartis recently made two pharma deals in Israel, following a long period in which no such investments were made. Can you tell us about them?
“We decided to strengthen our ties with young start-ups that have interesting technologies, and when we examined our investment portfolio, it became clear that our exposure to Israel is very limited, despite the fact that there’s a great deal of talent and innovation in Israel. So we invested time in meeting key figures in Israel, and based on this, we have made two deals thus far. The investment in Gamida Cell came from our intention to give strategic priority to developing cell therapy and gene therapy technologies. Gamida has an advanced stem-cell cancer treatment product.
“In addition, we wanted to find a partner that has a deep familiarity with the Israeli market - with the start-ups and with the universities in Israel, and that is why we chose BioLineRx, which has been operating in Israel for a long time, in order to better connect with opportunities in Israel.”