Novartis chief cools on US after visa crackdown

No plans for new Novartis production lines in the US Keystone

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has rejected overtures from United States President Donald Trump to increase jobs in the US, citing work visa restrictions as a reason. In a newspaper interview, chief executive Joe Jimenez said Switzerland and Europe were more attractive for the firm.

The comments follow a White House meeting in January between Trump and several pharma bosses, including Jimenez who leads the industry lobby group PhRMA. Trump called on the industry to reduce drug prices and to build more jobs in the US. 

Until now, Jimenez has remained tight-lipped on Novartis’s plans in the US. But in an interview with both Der Landbote and Berner Zeitung newspapers on Monday, he played down the prospects of a US expansion. 

The Trump administration has adopted a restrictive approach to immigration with the intention of giving more jobs to Americans. This includes measures to tighten the award of temporary work visas for foreign nationals. Jimenez said his company had noticed the squeeze on hiring foreigners in the US. 

“This makes the country a less attractive location for investment,” he said. “By contrast, Switzerland and Europe will become more attractive.” 

The firm employs 13,000 people in Switzerland out of a total 118,000 workers in 155 countries. In the US, the company currently has more than 22,000 employees.

Last month, Novartis said it would cut 500 posts in Basel, where it is headquartered, but vowed to create 350 new jobs in Switzerland to cushion the blow. 

Drug prices

Addressing Trump’s other concern – that drug prices are too high – Jimenez blamed the high costs on inefficient healthcare systems. In the newspaper interviews, he repeated views he cited last year that a quarter of healthcare costs are pure waste that do nothing to improve life for the sick. 

Jimenez has for months championed a new model for how healthcare authorities buy drugs from pharma companies, based on using data to track the effectiveness of drugs. Using this information, Jimenez argues that it should be possible to pay for drugs according to patient outcomes rather than volumes of pills being consumed. 

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