Vasant (Vas) Narasimhan, M.D., the new CEO of Novartis, has reiterated the company’s commitment to providing access to medicines, strengthening healthcare systems and improving health outcomes via partnerships. Narasimhan has been meeting government leaders and local health authorities, as well as reviewing Novartis operations in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
During his first visit to Africa this week, he said “Novartis has a long-standing relationship to Africa,” . Our efforts to help enhance access to healthcare already include multiple capability-building initiatives, collaboration agreements with academia, and extensive research partnerships. We are committed to further expanding this partnership approach to positively impact millions of patients across the continent.”
Novartis currently pursues a combination of access-to-healthcare approaches across Africa, including philanthropy, zero-profit initiatives, shared-value models and core business – tailored to local needs. The company is active in 46 African markets and the third largest multinational healthcare company on the continent.
Further, through the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), the company is researching new medicines for neglected diseases, and continues to make strides against various infectious diseases, including malaria, cryptosporidiosis (diarrheal disease), African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. Novartis also researches ways to expand the clinical use of existing medicines into new indications and populations.
Access for Africa
In light of the pressing need for high quality, affordable medicines against chronic diseases in Africa, Novartis Access was launched in 2015. The portfolio offers 15 on- and off-patent medicines addressing cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes, respiratory illnesses and breast cancer. Novartis Access is available to governments, nongovernmental organizations and other public-sector healthcare providers in lower-income countries at a price of USD 1 per treatment per month.
“Novartis is focused on the discovery, development and marketing of innovative treatments – and we have been working to get these treatments to as many people as possible,” said Narasimhan. “We are striving to roll out the program in 30 lower-income countries in the coming years – depending on governmental and stakeholder demand.”
Collaboration and partnerships on malaria and hypertension in Ghana
In Ghana, the first stop on his African tour, Narasimhan met the President Nana Akufo-Addo and health officials.
Novartis has been present in Ghana for many years. The company is seeking to deepen its partnership with the government in addressing key healthcare challenges including malaria. Since 2011, Novartis has supplied more than 10 million paediatric antimalarial treatments to the country and recently activated two Ghanaian sites for clinical trials on its novel Malaria drug KAE 609.
Since 2011, the Novartis Foundation (NF) has also closely collaborated with the Ghana Health Services to implement the innovative Telemedicine Initiative, which is now running through six Teleconsultation Centres. NF and partners, including the Ghana Health Services, also ran the Community-based Hypertension Improvement Project (ComHIP) in the Lower Manya Krobo District, among its many initiatives. Ghana also is a priority country for the rollout of the Novartis Access program targeting Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s).
100 million treatments delivered in Kenya in 2017
Novartis has been active in Kenya for the past 40 years, with many partnerships and capacity-building activities in the area of healthcare service delivery. In 2017, the company delivered more than 100 million treatments to Kenyan patients.
Kenya was the first country to launch Novartis Access against chronic diseases. Further, since 2001, the company has provided more than 70 million antimalarial treatments for adults and children in Kenya. Finally, through Familia Nawiri, the company addresses the health needs of people living at the base of the pyramid. Since 2013, more than 700,000 people have attended health education meetings, and 43,000 patients have been diagnosed and treated at health camps in Kenya.
Novartis also contributed to the development of Kenya’s National Cancer Strategy; and has announced a public-private partnership on a Centre of Excellence and Kenyan Transplant Centre to be launched at the Kenya National Hospital.
Building capabilities in South Africa and beyond
Novartis South Africa, with three divisions (Pharma, Sandoz and Alcon) has been active in South Africa for over 70 years, and within that time has developed a strong clinical trial footprint in the country. In 2017, Novartis signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) to enhance scientific research development to advance the availability of local clinical data.
Among the many successful Africa-focused initiatives is the Novartis partnership with H3D, the first drug discovery centre on the continent. Led by Prof. Kelly Chibale and affiliated with the University of Cape Town, the center both educates the next generation of African scientists and researches diseases that affect people in Africa, including TB and malaria. Prof. Chibale, who was recently named among Fortune Magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders for 2018, now heads a team of over 90 researchers in collaboration with Novartis, the Gates Foundation and the South African government. With three sites for chemistry, biology and in vitro testing, H3D is making progress on several fronts, including important research for new malaria treatments. H3D already has a potential malaria drug in human trials.
Novartis has also made the development of young scientists in emerging markets a priority with 140 of them being given the opportunity to work on research projects at Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, in the Next Generation Scientist Program. Between 2011 and 2017, 65% of program participants were from Africa with over 50% of these from South and Southern Africa.
Complementing the company’s significant gains and investments across Africa to date, Novartis is seeking to step up its public-private partnerships on the continent to enhance scientific research, build healthcare capability, and improve outcomes for millions of patients.
“We intend to harness the full strength of our organization to deliver transformative innovation, and improve outcomes and quality of life for patients across Africa. That includes finding new ways to expand patients’ access to our treatments and pricing our products responsibly,” said Narasimhan.