CEO’s letter

2020 was a unique year in the long history of Novartis, as the COVID-19 pandemic challenged us to deliver on our purpose despite immense challenges to healthcare systems and society. Our company has the utmost respect and gratitude for healthcare professionals around the world who are caring for patients, as well as for scientists who are finding ways to end the pandemic.

Vasant Narasimhan – Chief Executive Officer (Photo)

As we review our performance for the year, I feel proud of the resilience and agility of our people who continued to make progress in reimagining medicine. In challenging circumstances, they maintained the supply of Novartis medicines to patients around the world while advancing our pipeline and pivoting to new ways of engaging with customers and each other.

We continued to make progress on our strategic priorities. We delivered new innovative medicines for patients,  including a treatment for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis and a first-in-class siRNA cholesterol-lowering treatment. We continued to develop and build out our pipeline, which remains one of the most valuable in the industry. We’re especially optimistic about our mid- to late-stage pipeline, tracking five promising assets in our Oncology pipeline, six in our Pharmaceuticals pipeline, and an additional five medicines that are already approved and that we believe can be further applied to expanded areas of treatment.

As we review our performance for the year, I feel proud of the resilience and agility of our people who continued to make progress in reimagining medicine

Our ongoing commitments to operational excellence and our digital transformation were critical to our success. We managed disruptions to our development programs, with our early investments in data science and technology helping to keep the majority of our clinical trials on track. As most of the world went into lockdown, we mitigated the disruption as much as we could by shifting to digital launches. We kept our supply stable while continuing to transform our production network to prepare for future growth.

We also continued to make progress in building trust with society. We announced new, ambitious targets regarding access to medicine and global health, and we issued a sustainability-linked bond to reinforce our commitment to achieving them. We also strengthened our environmental targets, launched a new Code of Ethics, and followed through on our promise to settle legacy legal matters from years prior.

Culture underpinned all of our efforts. The pandemic connected associates even more strongly to our purpose, created new demands for learning, and demonstrated the benefits of empowered working. We launched a new working model in 2020 designed to provide associates with greater flexibility while ensuring we continue to drive innovation and performance.

I’m also proud of the ways Novartis contributed to the global pandemic response. Through Sandoz, Novartis was the first company to commit to keeping the prices of essential generic medicines stable. We launched a first-of-its-kind not-for-profit portfolio of medicines to treat symptoms of COVID-19. And we played our part in the scientific effort to find treatments for the disease. Across the industry, we are sharing our scientific findings and our research and manufacturing capacity while committing to equitable distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Many more response efforts are outlined in this report.

Delivering on our strategy supported our financial performance in 2020. Although the pandemic affected demand in some therapeutic areas, strength in key products helped us post net sales of USD 48.7 billion, up 3%, measured in constant currencies (cc). Our core operating income rose 13% (cc) to USD 15.4 billion.

As I write this letter at the end of 2020, the world remains in the grip of COVID-19. Yet we have reasons to be optimistic. The pandemic has demonstrated what is possible when human resilience and collaborative science rise to the occasion. Novartis will continue to deliver on our purpose to reimagine medicine by developing transformative new treatments and finding innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing healthcare challenges.

Vas Narasimhan
Chief Executive Officer