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Boxes of tablets, produced by Novartis AG, sit on a pharmacy counter in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. The rapid pace of innovation among drugmakers may continue to be overshadowed by broader investment themes, such as the switch away from defensive stocks into more cyclical industries, during 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

(bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Novartis AG will shut down its antibacterial and antiviral research operations in the San Francisco Bay area and cut about 140 jobs, joining other pharmaceutical giants that have pulled out of the field in recent years.

The exit is part of the Swiss drugmaker’s move to narrow its R&D focus under its new chief executive officer. Vas Narasimhan, who took over in February, said in an interview last month that his priorities include gene-therapy programs for cancer treatment, neuroscience and ophthalmology.

Novartis decided to drop its antibacterial and antiviral research in Emeryville, California, to “prioritize our resources in other areas where we believe we are better positioned to develop innovative medicines,” spokeswoman Sofina Mirza-Reid said by email. The drugmaker is in talks with companies specializing on such treatments to license its programs, she said.

Novartis has had a deep pipeline in drugs to treat bacterial and microbial infections, according to the Access to Medicine Foundation, a non-profit organization evaluating the performance and actions of pharmaceutical companies. The foundation, in its 2018 antimicrobial resistance benchmark report, said that Novartis had 32 antimicrobial research and development projects in its pipeline.

Other drugmakers that have retreated from the field include AstraZeneca Plc, which sold its small-molecule antibiotics business to Pfizer Inc. in 2016. Allergan Plc plans to sell its infectious-disease unit as part of a strategic review.

The San Francisco Bay area will continue to be home to the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases. Along with several other Novartis units, the location will employ about 150 people after the cuts, Mirza-Reid said.

The staff reduction was reported earlier by the publication Endpoints News.

--With assistance from Cynthia Koons.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aziza Kasumov in New York at akasumov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Drew Armstrong at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net, Cecile Daurat

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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