Successful Alliances: Novartis and Idenix Share the Secrets of Success

Oct 01, 2005
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Thomas Ebeling, Novartis Pharma AG CEO
When it comes to infectious diseases, biotech start-up Idenix is on a mission: to provide patients with treatments that are more effective, more tolerable, and safer than current standards of care. Though small, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is well poised to become a leader in the global antiretroviral market: It has experienced top management, a strong background in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, and a pipeline of novel treatments for hepatitis B and C and HIV. Until a couple years ago, all Idenix lacked was a financial backer to help pay the way.

Enter Novartis Pharma AG. Impressed with Idenix's leadership and pipeline, Novartis added the company to its roster of venture alliances in May 2003 and became a majority stockholder when the little biotech went public in July 2004.

Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, Idenix founder, CEO, and chairman
The partnership has so far proven a good match for both parties. With Novartis' support, Idenix accelerated its discovery and development programs, and plans to complete Phase III trials for its first product, a novel treatment for hepatitis B called telbivudine, this year, after only seven years of development. Idenix will share with its partner the right to co-promote that drug in the United States and five major European markets. For its part, Novartis gets exclusive commercial rights in the rest of the world for telbivudine and for valtorcitabine, Idenix's other hepatitis B treatment (currently in late-stage Phase II trials). It also has the option to license future Idenix drug candidates, including valopicitabine, which is scheduled to complete Phase II trials for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C by the end of the year.

Pharm Exec caught up with Novartis Pharma AG CEO Thomas Ebeling, who also heads up Novartis' pharmaceuticals division worldwide, and Idenix founder, CEO, and chairman Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, to discuss the mutual benefits and challenges of maintaining a successful partnership.

What is the most important thing our company is doing to make this alliance work?

EBELING: At Novartis, we strongly believe in establishing partnerships and alliances that are mutually beneficial to both parties. We also look for long-term collaborations and strive to build strong relationships with our partners. I think the most important thing that makes our relationship with Idenix work is our alignment around the same goals and our common passion to find ways to meet the needs of patients—in this case, those suffering from infectious disease. In addition, as a leading global healthcare and pharma company, we offer access to our extensive R&D capabilities along with our worldwide sales and marketing capabilities. In this way, we can provide Idenix with tools and know-how in areas that, as a smaller and newer company, would be much more difficult to develop alone.

I sit on the board of directors for Idenix, which allows Novartis to have a voice in directing the strategy of the company, while leaving the day-to-day running of the company to Idenix executives and allowing them a great degree of autonomy and freedom to act in ways they feel are best suited to the company.

SOMMADOSSI: Idenix has extensive expertise in the discovery, development, and commercialization of antiretrovirals, and the Idenix management team has executed antiretroviral programs for other Big Pharma companies. Our chief medical officer, Nathaniel Brown, previously led clinical development for six NDAs in antiretrovirals.

Since Idenix's inception in 1998, our management team has had a track record of successful execution, on time and on budget, as evidenced by our expectation to file our first NDA later this year. This is important, as we will have achieved this goal within seven years of the discovery of the drug—that's a more rapid timeline than the average 10 to 15 years in the industry.

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