Sep 13, 2021
  • Biologics License Application (BLA) submission supported by Phase III RATIONALE 302 trial, which met primary endpoint of improvement in overall survival (OS) in people with advanced or metastatic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) who had received prior systemic therapy1
  • ESCC is most common type of esophageal cancer globally and sixth leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, with five-year survival rate at 19.9%2,3
  • Tislelizumab is a key cornerstone of Novartis immunotherapy program, one of four distinct therapeutic platforms across the oncology portfolio: immunotherapy, radioligand therapy, cell and gene therapy, and targeted therapy

Basel, September 13, 2021 — Novartis today announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted the Biologics License Application (BLA) for anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor tislelizumab for the treatment of unresectable recurrent locally advanced or metastatic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) in people who had received prior systemic therapy.

"This is an encouraging step forward in our mission to deliver transformative therapies for people living with cancer, and especially for people with esophageal cancer, an aggressive disease with limited treatment options," said Jeff Legos, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Oncology & Hematology Development. “We are advancing tislelizumab as a key cornerstone of our immunotherapy program and PD-1 backbone for combination therapy. We will work with regulatory authorities to ensure it is available for people with esophageal cancer as soon as possible.”

Tislelizumab is a humanized IgG4 anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody being developed both as a monotherapy and in combination with other therapies.4 The BLA submission was based on data from the Phase III RATIONALE 302 trial, which demonstrated a 30% reduction in the risk of death (HR=0.70, 95% CI: 0.57-0.85, p=0.0001) and extended median overall survival by 2.3 months compared to chemotherapy in people with unresectable recurrent locally advanced or metastatic ESCC who had received prior systemic therapy.1

About Esophageal Cancer
ESCC is the most common type of esophageal cancer globally and the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide.2 There are approximately 17,000 people living with ESCC in the United States and in 2021, and it is estimated that there will be 19,000 new esophageal cancer cases diagnosed and more than 15,000 deaths from esophageal cancer.3,5 Globally, in 2020, there were more than 604,000 new cases of esophageal cancer and 544,000 deaths from esophageal cancer.2 More than two-thirds of people with ESCC have advanced or metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis.6 The five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is 19.9%, and the five-year survival rate for metastatic disease is even lower at 5.2%.3  

About Tislelizumab
Tislelizumab is a humanized IgG4 anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody specifically designed to minimize binding to FcγR on macrophages. In pre-clinical studies, binding to FcγR on macrophages has been shown to compromise the anti-tumor activity of PD-1 antibodies through activation of antibody-dependent macrophage-mediated killing of T effector cells. The clinical impact of these features is not yet known.4   

BeiGene filed the BLA on behalf of Novartis in the United States for tislelizumab for the treatment of unresectable recurrent locally advanced or metastatic ESCC in people who had received prior systemic therapy. In an agreement finalized earlier this year, BeiGene granted Novartis rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize tislelizumab in North America, Europe, and Japan through a collaboration and license agreement.

This media update contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements can generally be identified by words such as “potential,” “can,” “will,” “plan,” “may,” “could,” “would,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “look forward,” “believe,” “committed,” “investigational,” “pipeline,” “launch,” or similar terms, or by express or implied discussions regarding potential marketing approvals, new indications or labeling for the investigational or approved products described in this media update, or regarding potential future revenues from such products. You should not place undue reliance on these statements. Such forward-looking statements are based on our current beliefs and expectations regarding future events, and are subject to significant known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. There can be no guarantee that the investigational or approved products described in this media update will be submitted or approved for sale or for any additional indications or labeling in any market, or at any particular time. Nor can there be any guarantee that such products will be commercially successful in the future. In particular, our expectations regarding such products could be affected by, among other things, the uncertainties inherent in research and development, including clinical trial results and additional analysis of existing clinical data; regulatory actions or delays or government regulation generally; global trends toward health care cost containment, including government, payor and general public pricing and reimbursement pressures and requirements for increased pricing transparency; our ability to obtain or maintain proprietary intellectual property protection; the particular prescribing preferences of physicians and patients; general political, economic and business conditions, including the effects of and efforts to mitigate pandemic diseases such as COVID-19; safety, quality, data integrity or manufacturing issues; potential or actual data security and data privacy breaches, or disruptions of our information technology systems, and other risks and factors referred to in Novartis AG’s current Form 20-F on file with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Novartis is providing the information in this media update as of this date and does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this media update as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

About Novartis
Novartis is reimagining medicine to improve and extend people’s lives. As a leading global medicines company, we use innovative science and digital technologies to create transformative treatments in areas of great medical need. In our quest to find new medicines, we consistently rank among the world’s top companies investing in research and development. Novartis products reach nearly 800 million people globally and we are finding innovative ways to expand access to our latest treatments. About 109,000 people of more than 140 nationalities work at Novartis around the world. Find out more at

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  1. Shen L, Kato K, Kim S-B, et al. RATIONALE 302: Randomized, Phase 3 study of tislelizumab vs chemotherapy as second-line treatment for advanced or metastatic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. ePoster presentation at American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting (ASCO); June 2021
  2. Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegel RL, et al. Global cancer statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians. 2018;68(6):394-424.
  3. National Cancer Institute. Cancer stat facts: esophageal cancer. Accessed June 21, 2021.
  4. Zhang T, Song X, Xu L, et al. The binding of an anti-PD-1 antibody to FcγRΙ has a profound impact on its biological functions. Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2018;67(7):1079-1090.
  5. Abnet C, Arnold M, Wei W. Epidemiology of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Gastroenterology. 2018;154(2):360-373.
  6. Chen Z, Ren Y, Du XL, et al. Incidence and survival differences in esophageal cancer among ethnic groups in the United States. Oncotarget. 2017;8(29):47037-47051.

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