Covid cure further away than hoped, says Novartis chief

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan says the pandemic is causing more problems than earlier imagined. © Keystone / Patrick Straub

Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis has rowed back on earlier predictions that a drug to combat coronavirus could be on the horizon. CEO Vas Narasimhan says it is now more “realistic” to expect the pandemic to continue to haunt the world well into next year.

This content was published on August 24, 2020 - 13:03

Speaking to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Monday, Narasimhan said Covid-19 is posing more problems than expected with a series of waves striking various countries.

“The question is: When will we be so far advanced with vaccines and treatments that the world can live with the virus? We are not assuming that it will suddenly go away or that enough people will be immune,” he said.

In April, Narasimhan appeared optimistic about the chances of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine providing relief from the virus. But the drug, which was endorsed by US President Donald Trump, did not pass muster with the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We are at a very early stage and it turns out that it is taking longer than we expected,” he said of finding a cure. “We hoped to be able to get more out of the existing drugs for combating Covid and also to be faster in developing a new active ingredient. Now it is clear that we need more cooperation with biotech companies.”

Switzerland has signed a deal with US biotech firm Moderna to secure early access to 4.5 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine currently in development.

Novartis sold off most of its vaccines unit in 2015 and Narasimhan admitted it would be “incredibly difficult” to re-build this competence from scratch in a short period of time. 

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