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Vas Narasimhan takes top Novartis job on Jimenez departure

The soon-to-be CEO will take over at a time when the company has a strong pipeline


Swiss pharma group Novartis has said that its chief medical officer Vas Narasimhan will succeed Joe Jimenez as its CEO next year.

Jimenez announced his retirement this week, saying he will step down on January 31, 2018 but will stay on to assist the transition process until the end of August. He has been at the helm of Novartis since 2010 when he took over from Daniel Vasella, swiftly moving to streamline the pharma group's operations.

Jimenez said that after eight years it is "the right moment to hand the leadership reins of the company to Vas", who he said would take over at a time when the company has a strong pipeline that has benefitted from a tighter focus. One of Jimenez' priorities during his tenure was to hive off assets that were lay outside its core business focus and reshape the business via a series of big deal, including an asset swap deal with GlaxoSmithKline.

Harvard -trained physician Narasimhan has been with Novartis since 2005 and has held a number of roles at the company across commercial, drug development and strategy but is "deeply anchored in medical science", according to Novartis' chairman Joerg Reinhardt, who added that the new CEO "has a strong patient focus and a genuine humane perspective and care for the mission and values of Novartis".

"I've been CEO for eight years and I’ve been pretty public about the fact that I didn’t think a CEO should stay much longer than that," said Jimenez on a conference call. "You come in, you see what you want to change, you change it, and then it’s time to pass it on to a successor."

The handover comes as Novartis is emerging from a difficult couple of years following the patent expiry for cancer blockbuster Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib), difficulties at its eyecare division Alcon - which recently showed an uptick in performance but remains under strategic review - and disappointing take-up of new chronic heart failure drug Entresto (sacubitril/valsartan).

The new CEO will take over just as Novartis' has scored a world first - claiming approval for its CAR-T Kymriah (tisagenleucel) - which introduces a new type of immunotherapy for cancer and ensures Jimenez finishes his tenure on a high note.

Narasimhan still has the thorny task of working out what to do with Novartis' $14bn stake in fellow Swiss pharma group Roche, and a possible cash injection from its consumer health joint venture with GSK should the latter to choose to take complete ownership of the unit at a decision point next year.

He is expected to continue the strategy of  bolt-on acquisitions to boost Novartis' position in key therapeutic categories such as oncology and cardiovascular, as well as generics/biosimilars.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th September 2017

From: Sales



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