Novartis to disband cell & gene therapy unit, 120 jobs to go

The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is seen on its headquarters building in Basel, Switzerland October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis is folding activities of its Cell and Gene Therapy unit into other business and research locations, eliminating 120 positions, the Swiss drugmaker said on Wednesday.

The move intensifies a corporate makeover begun this year as it focuses on high-growth areas including cancer immunotherapy.

Basel-based Novartis said the move will not derail its intentions to file CTL019, a chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CART) therapy, for treatment of young people with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia with U.S. and European regulators in 2017.

Nor will it disrupt a gene editing push that Novartis hopes will lead to new therapies for hard-to-treat diseases, it said.

Novartis shook up its organization in May, splitting its pharmaceuticals division into two business units, one focused on cancer and the second on other drugs, while replacing its longtime drugs leader, David Epstein.

A company spokesman said the wind-down of cell and gene therapy as a stand-alone unit is an extension of the changes announced three months ago.

“Most associates who were previously dedicated to cell and gene therapies will now be redeployed to areas where they will share their knowledge and improve execution of novel therapeutics in the immunotherapy space,” he said in an email. “We remain committed to CTL019, CART and CRISPR technologies.”

CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, with Novartis working with partners to use the technology to edit genes with biological “scissors” that can find and replace defects.

The affected positions are spread across several locations, but mostly in the United States, Novartis said.

Reporting by John Miller, Editing by Michael Shields