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Exclusive: Novartis in talks to sell some central nervous system drugs - sources

By Sophie Sassard and Arno Schuetze

By Sophie Sassard and Arno Schuetze

ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis is in talks about the sale of some older neuroscience drugs, people close to the matter said, as the Swiss drugmaker clears the decks to concentrate on promising new medicines it hopes will help to restore sales growth.

The assets may be valued at more than 500 million Swiss Francs ($496 million) in a potential deal, the people said.

Novartis did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

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Chief Executive Joe Jimenez is in the process of refreshing the group's drugs portfolio to help return the company to sales growth.

The expiration of patents on Novartis's best-selling medicine Glivec in the United States this year and Europe next year is putting pressure on sales as generics hit the market.

But the world's biggest maker of prescription drugs has high expectations for investigational multiple sclerosis medicines including BAF312 and CJM 112, as well as ofatumumab that it bought from GlaxoSmithKline last year.

Additionally, Novartis bought U.S- and Australia-based Spinifex Inc. in 2015 to get control of early-stage treatments for neuropathic pain and is working with Amgen on a promising medicine to treat episodic and chronic migraines.

As a result, Novartis is seeking to sell older medicines within its central nervous system (CNS) range to free up its workforce's capacity to introduce, manufacture and market new drugs that it sees as potential blockbusters, the sources said.

Novartis has been offering its CNS portfolio, including its Exelon Patch, to treat symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and Ritalin against attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, since early 2016, another source said.

Generic drugmakers are among the potential buyers, one of the people said.

Another source said that the asset might appeal to medium-sized healthcare groups such as Endo, Mallinckrodt, Recordati or Pierre Fabre.

Novartis is more familiar as a potential buyer of companies in the M&A arena, with Jimenez saying last month he was looking for bolt on acquisitions. The company bought U.S.-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals in a deal worth up to $665 million in November.

But Novartis has also periodically culled its stable of drugs, including central nervous system medications. In 2001, for instance, it unloaded the rights to five older CNS medications including the insomnia medication Restoril.

Neuroscience is one of nine research and therapeutic areas where Jimenez and new research boss Jay Bradner, who heads up the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, have said they will focus the Basel-based company.

(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Ludwig Burger and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Sophie Sassard in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)