Novartis AG launched a lottery-style program to give away doses of its pricey gene therapy for free, drawing criticism from patient groups that say that is an inappropriate way to distribute a lifesaving treatment aimed at babies.

Zolgensma, a one-shot cure for a deadly inherited disease whose victims cannot control their muscles, is so far sold only in the U.S. at a price of $2.1 million, making it the world’s most expensive drug. The so-called global managed-access program is aimed at providing Zolgensma to a limited number…

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