Novartis picks RP as Asia research hub

By Dennis D. Estopace, Business Mirror

Posted at Feb 09 2009 12:19 AM | Updated as of Feb 09 2009 08:19 AM

Novartis AG expects its Asian drug-research center in Manila to be finished by June and, hopefully, employ more Filipino scientists and professionals, its new chief executive said.

“We’re renovating the old building, patterned after our Cambridge, Massachusetts, center,” Novartis Healthcare Philippines CEO Eric van Oppens told the BusinessMirror.

“It’s not a big office, but we do expect it to provide additional jobs and opportunities for Filipino professionals,” Van Oppens said after the ceremonies late Thursday, where outgoing president and CEO Peter Goldschimdt welcomed him.

Goldschimdt assumes the position of head of commercial operations for Central and Eastern Europe after 17 months as country president for the Philippines.

The Belgium-born Van Oppens was also appointed the Swiss pharmaceutical firm’s head for the Southeast Asia cluster, which includes the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia.

He explained the research hub reflects Novartis’s move to invest more in generics and innovation.

“There’re a lot of opportunities in the road ahead, especially for the Philippines and Indonesia, by 2012. They would be the new wave of markets in the pharmaceutical industry,” he said.

Van Oppens apologized for not citing investment figures, saying he’s just been in the country for less than a month. However, he said the center would also become a platform for Filipino researchers to study at the company’s National Institute for Bio-Research in Massachusetts.

According to chief scientific officer Francis Domingo, the company will release 10 drugs this year for treatment of depression, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, cancer tumors, hypertension, cystic fibrosis, asthma and pulmonary diseases.

Last year, the company launched six products for the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, asthma and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The company leads the pack of multinational drug firms in Federal Drug Agency approvals with 16 products, followed by Pfizer, with 11; and GlaxoSmithKline Plc. with six.

Likewise, Domingo said, all vaccines—for example, malaria, discovered at the drug maker’s global research center—“will be introduced first in developing countries, including the Philippines.”

According to Van Oppens, the Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis is the second-largest firm investing in research and development relevant to developing countries, after GlaxoSmithKline.

He added last year the company sold 82,000 antimalaria vaccines. He claims that Novartis was able to provide 82,300 of their antimalaria vaccine at cost and more than a thousand of their drug for cancer patients under an oncology program.

In March, the company will launch a discount-card membership program for hypertensive patients, while it will fund an international symposium on dengue by September in the Philippines.

Van Oppens said they are also beefing up support to Sandoz Philippines, the company’s division for generic drugs.

“While I can’t say yet the amount of investment—I still don’t know the numbers—I can say we’ll continue our social responsibility programs in the coming months,” he said.