Novartis‘ (NYSE:NVS) chief executive Joseph Jimenez is slated to leave his post next February, the drugmaker reported over the weekend. The CEO’s surprise departure leaves the corner office to Dr. Vasant Narasimhan, who currently serves as the company’s CMO and global head of drug development.
The move comes just days after Novartis won FDA approval for its breakthrough CAR-T leukemia therapy – the first of its kind to be cleared in the U.S.
Jimenez, who led Novartis through deals that total more than $30 billion in 2015, is also leaving Narasimhan to determine the fate of its Alcon eye-care unit.
The European company bought Alcon in 2011 for $52 million, but the business has faltered in the past 2 years, prompting Jimenez to mull a sale. Also in play is a $14 billion stake in competitor Roche (PINK:RHHBY), as well as a $10 billion joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK).
Novartis is facing a March 2018 deadline to exercise its put option for its 36.5%, with GSK said to be a willing buyer.
Narasimhan’s experience and expertise in clinical development will help him guide the company through its ongoing Alcon review, analyst Vincent Meunier reportedly wrote in a note to clients.
Narasimhan “is highly regarded as chief medical officer and has had increasing exposure to investors over the past few quarters and company events,” the Morgan Stanley analyst wrote. “We believe that Vas Narasimhan will bring the skills and leadership to tackle Novartis’ challenges.”
Prior to working at Novartis, Narasimhan worked at McKinsey & Co. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, as well as a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard.
“Both from a professional and a personal perspective, this is the right moment to hand the leadership reins of the company to Vas,” Jimenez said in prepared remarks. “Our strong pipeline and the strategic moves we have taken to focus the company have put Novartis on a strong path for the future. On the personal side, after 10 wonderful years in Switzerland, my family is ready to return to Silicon Valley and the US. I’m confident that Vas will be an excellent successor.”
“I would like to congratulate Joe and express my gratitude to Joe, Joerg, and the board of directors,” Narasimhan added. “I feel honored and humbled to be asked to lead Novartis. We will continue our legacy of bringing leading innovation to patients around the world. With our recent launches, our strong pipeline, broad capabilities, world-class leadership team, and committed people, I am very confident about our future.”