Novartis has been given the thumbs-up in China to market its eye drug Lucentis and has also launched its diabetes treatment Galvus in the country.

First up, the Swiss major has received regulatory approval from the State Food and Drug Administration for Lucentis (ranibizumab) to treat wet age-related macular degeneration. Novartis says that there are around 300,000 new cases of AMD every year in China.

Novartis quoted Xiaoxin Li, chairman of the China Fundus Society, as saying that there is "a huge unmet need" for wet AMD in the country and "we have been waiting for the Lucentis approval here since it was first launched in the USA in 2006". Roche's Genentech has the commercial rights to Lucentis in the USA and Novartis holds them for the rest of the world.

Secondly, the company says Galvus (vildagliptin) is now available in China as an add-on to metformin. Some 75 million people have uncontrolled type 2 diabetes in China, which currently accounts for nearly 20% of medical expenditure in the country. The economic burden of the disease is projected to increase from $26 billion in 2007 to $47 billion by 2030 and Ning Guang,  of the Shanghai Jiatong University-affiliated Ruijing Hospital said that "uncontrolled diabetes is threatening to overwhelm our healthcare system".

U-turn over Nyon plant closure, Basel cuts

Meantime, Novartis workers in Switzerland have been celebrating this week after the company's U-turn regarding plans to close a production site in Nyon/Prangins,  a move that will save over 300 about 320 jobs, while there will be less job cuts than originally announced at a Basel plant.

Novartis unveiled plans to cut 2,000 jobs in October last year, including 1,100 in Switzerland, but this led to demonstrations and criticism from politicians in the country. Now, the company has changed its position, saying "constructive solutions" have been found following talks locals authorities and employee representatives.

Nyon/Prangins will be preserved, thanks to all staff agreeing  to forego part of the pay increase agreed to for 2012 and workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement who are currently working a 37.5-hour week have agreed to do 40 hours. Novartis, which will also benefit from "cantonal tax relief over a limited period", now plans to invest in the modernisation of the production plants.

As for Basel, Novartis said it will "probably manage to find other positions within the company for about a third of the associates in Basel and offer early retirement to another third. It also looking at the possibility of preserving other posts through a spin-off of the toxicology group there.

Less than a week ago, Novartis said it is to axe 1,960 jobs as part of a restructuring of its US operations, prompted by the pending patent loss on its hypertension blockbuster Diovan (valsartan) and predicted lower sales of the blood pressure drug Tekturna/Rasilez (aliskiren).