2021 was another year of rapid change for the biopharmaceutical industry and the world. The pandemic continues to disrupt care for patients across the spectrum of disease, creating a syndemic, or confluence of epidemics, that requires healthcare systems to cope with COVID-19 while caring for patients with chronic diseases.
Through the challenges ahead, there are reasons to be optimistic a healthier future is within our grasp – including the ways our industry has brought to this crisis the power of technology and shown once again the extraordinary ability of science to overcome humanity’s greatest tests.
As we reimagine medicine at Novartis, our unwavering focus on our strategy and purpose enabled us to continue creating value for patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare systems, employees, shareholders and society.
Our impact on the world remains extraordinary, with 766 million patients reached in 2021
The adaptability and commitment of our employees, together with the resilience of our operations and capabilities in data science and technology, minimized disruptions to our business. Many changes, such as hybrid working, are now business as usual.
Our impact on the world remains extraordinary, with 766 million patients reached in 2021. We received 21 approvals in the US, the EU, Japan and China, including two new molecular entities. Our siRNA therapy Leqvio is now approved in more than 50 countries, including the US. We also demonstrated the strength of our in-market portfolio, with medicines like Cosentyx, Entresto, Zolgensma, Kesimpta and Kisqali driving growth.
Our pipeline promises innovation for years to come. We have built depth in five therapeutic areas and are building scale in five next-generation technology platforms. 2021 saw important data readouts, including for Kisqali in HR+/HER2- advanced breast cancer, and for177Lu-PSMA-617, our investigational targeted radioligand therapy for patients with advanced prostate cancer, which received breakthrough therapy designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We also received approval for Scemblix, a novel stamp inhibitor for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia.
We have a promising mid- and late-stage portfolio, with more than 20 assets with expected approval by 2026 that each have sales potential over USD 1 billion. We also initiated a share buyback of up to USD 15 billion, underscoring our confidence in our mid- and long-term pipeline and growth outlook.
Progressing on our journey to build trust with society and furthering our legacy in global health and access, in 2021 Novartis reached the milestone of delivering a staggering 1 billion courses of malaria treatment to people in endemic countries. We continue delivering on our longstanding commitment to expand access, narrowing the time it takes to scale our latest innovations. Our progress was underscored by improved environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings, and we once again ranked second in the Access to Medicine Index.
We continued to go big on data science and digital technologies, integrating our data and digital teams within Customer & Technology Solutions to maximize efficiency as we scale value-driving projects. For example, AI Nurse, developed in collaboration with Tencent, helps patients with heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases manage disease progression. It is used by 300 000 patients in China.
Novartis also continued doing our part to end the pandemic, quickly scaling up production of COVID-19 vaccines. We’re proud to have helped develop a potential new treatment option with Molecular Partners.
Our financial performance highlights the progress we’ve made and drives confidence for the future – with 4% growth in net sales and 6% growth in core operating income from the previous year. We’re confident we’ll drive consistent growth to 2030 and beyond. We’ve also initiated a strategic review of Sandoz to enable Sandoz to be positioned as a long-term leader in the generics industry.
Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, I remain optimistic about a new era in medicine. Stakeholders like you play an important role in that. On behalf of all of us at Novartis, we’re grateful for your contributions on the journey of reimagining medicine.
Chief Executive Officer