By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss drugmakers Roche and Novartis underscored how their portfolios are increasingly clashing on the commercial battlefield, announcing on Wednesday new data on drugs aimed at capturing market share from each other.

Roche said its port delivery system (PDS) requiring twice-yearly refills of a customised version of eye drug Lucentis was as good as monthly injections against blindness-causing macular degeneration, a market Novartis is also targeting with its new medicine Beovu.

Meanwhile, Novartis said ofatumumab, its older injectible leukaemia drug also known as Arzerra, showed promising results in halting relapsing multiple sclerosis, a clear shot at Roche’s nearly $4 billion-per-year blockbuster drug Ocrevus that works similarly but must be taken as an infusion.

The companies stare each other down across the Rhine River in Basel and have clashed and cooperated over the years on various medicines. But these examples show more direct competition is inevitable, as Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan branches out beyond cancer drugs to fresh treatment areas and Novartis boss Vas Narashiman augments his portfolio in identical disease territory.

With its port — a refillable, surgically inserted reservoir — Roche seeks to offer a new option for patients wary of frequent, direct-in-the-eye injections. That mirrors Novartis’s selling point for Beovu, launched last year: potentially cutting down on unpleasant trips to the eye doctor required with either Lucentis or Bayer’s and Regeneron’s rival medicine Eylea.

And with Novartis’s immune system-targeting ofatumumab, the company is playing the COVID-19 card: Drugs division head Marie-France Tschudin has said its once-monthly, at-home injections in the post-coronavirus era may appeal to MS patients seeking to avoid twice-yearly infusions at a clinic required for Roche’s Ocrevus that may take a couple of hours.

Novartis sees ofatumumab’s U.S. approval in June. Roche said it hopes the port gets approval “as soon as possible”.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)