(Reuters) - Novartis (NOVN.S), lagging some other big drugmakers in the first wave of immunotherapy drugs that are revolutionizing cancer treatment, hopes to catch up by focusing on the next wave of immune system-boosting medicines.
Setting out its research objectives in slides for a press conference on Wednesday, it said it aimed for “a leadership position in oncology” by focusing on second-generation immunotherapy.
The Swiss drugmaker said it was rapidly progressing 18 checkpoint and other novel targets and expected to be running 20 exploratory studies in immuno-oncology by early 2017.
Merck & Co (MRK.N), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N) and Roche (ROG.S) are in the lead with cancer immunotherapies already on the market, but the field is developing fast and new treatments are expected to play an important role in drug cocktails.
Novartis is already developing a novel cell therapy for childhood leukemia called CTL-019, which is on track for submission to regulators for approval early this year, although this initial market opportunity is small.
Outside cancer, Novartis has a closely watched new drug for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis called BAF-312, which it hopes to file for approval in the first half of 2017, pending consultations with regulators.
It is also looking to new products for heart and eye conditions and other serious diseases to help offset generic competition to its old blood cancer drug Glivec.
Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Louise Heavens