Novartis tests new covid-19 treatment in Denmark: "One of the most attractive places to start studies"

Novartis has started a phase II study of a new covid-19 treatment on Danish soil. At the moment, clinical studies can be started unusually quickly in Denmark, says the company's country head, who hopes this will continue after the pandemic.

Peter Drøidal, head of Novartis in Denmark | Foto: Novartis/PR

Denmark is one of six countries involved in the testing of a new potential anti-inflammatory treatment for covid-19 developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.

Peter Drøidal, head of Norvartis in Denmark and newly appointed chairman of The Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Lif), tells MedWatch that the treatment is called DFV890 and will be tested in a phase II study involving 120 patients, including 35 in Denmark.

Novartis took over the treatment, that was previously called IFM-2427, when it purchased biotech firm IFM Tre last year. The drug works by inhibiting a receptor in the immune system called NLRP3.

Drøidal is very satisfied that the study has come to Denmark.

"The treatment we will test in Denmark is developed from scratch to regulate one particular part of the immune system which seems to be relevant for patients who experience an over activation of the immune system," he says.

"It can be relevant in several different diseases, but also seems to be relevant for some of the severely affected covid-19 patients," he adds.

Not wasting any time

According to Drøidal, there is one reason in particular that meant Norvartis chose Denmark for its DFV890 study.

The Danish eagerness to fight the coronavirus pandemic has meant that it has become extremely quick and easy to start up clinical studies in Denmark compared to other countries, he says.

"Right now, Denmark is one of the most attractive places to start covid-19 studies," Drøidal says.

In practice, the pandemic has meant that no time is wasted in the process.

"All parties - authorities, researchers, hospitals, businesses - are showing enormous flexibility driven by an ambition that research projects need to start as quickly as possible. Decisions and important meetings are being prioritized. This has eliminated the time that is wasted, meaning you don't have to wait up to 60 days for a response," he says.

Drøidal believes this deserves praise.

"Speed has been of the essence, without compromising on quality," he says.

The Novartis boss believes that Denmark already had good conditions for clinical studies in the form of skilled clinics and good hospitals, as well as Trial Nation, a public/private collaboration for clinical studies.

When unusually fast case processing is added to this, Denmark has a huge competitive advantage when it comes to attracting clinical studies that give Danish patients access to experimental medicine.

A good middle road

Drøidal believes that in this respect, something good can come out of the coronavirus pandemic. He hopes that these initiatives can continue after the pandemic, so even more clinical studies can come to Denmark.

"During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen that fast case processing time doesn't need to impact the quality," says Drøidal.

However, he doesn't believe that all barriers should be removed. A solid evaluation of clinical studies will still need to be done by Lif and the Ethics Committee. You shouldn't be able to just walk in from the street and start a research project involving sensitive health data, he says.

"But we do see that there are a number of other barriers that don't create value - for example a long case processing time - and we need to minimize those. Here, the key could be slightly more resources, which would have a big effect, and a continued high level of willingness to collaborate," Drøidal says, adding: 

"It is unrealistic to expect that we can treat all future research projects as we have done during the pandemic, which has been a unique situation. But there might be a good middle road between the situation before covid-19 and the situation during the outbreak."

Ideas for the future

Drøidal has several ideas about how to ensure the fast processing times can be continued after the pandemic.

Firstly, he believes that the state should continue to support the Trial Nation collaboration, and give more resources to Lif, the Health Data authorities and the Ethics committee system.

"There are already skilled people there, but more hands are needed. It could be a small investment with a big future reward," he says.

Secondly, Drøidal believes that more incentives for running clinical research at hospitals should be established, as "clinical research is all too often run by passionate people in their free time," he says.

He also believes that more should be done to get patients to participate in clinical studies.

"Many patients want to contribute to research, but don't know how they can do that. If you could create an overview of the patients who are interested in participating in research projects in advance, it could minimize the complexity of identifying relevant patients significantly," he says.

He believes that these measures would mean that Denmark would remain one of the most attractive places to start clinical studies.

"Now we have seen how much we can do in a short time when we all pull together," Drøidal says.

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