CEO of Novartis’ generics unit quits, sparking sale speculation

Richard Francis is stepping down as CEO of Novartis’ generics and biosimilars division Sandoz at the end of March, sparking further speculation about the unit’s future.

The Swiss drug maker said that current region head for Europe, Francesco Balestrieri, has been appointed ad-interim CEO of Sandoz, reporting to Vas Narasimhan, Novartis’ CEO.

Francis gave few reasons for stepping down, save that he could not commit to a “multi-year transformation” of Sandoz for personal reasons.

Sandoz last year sold a group of US drugs to India’s Aurobindo, and began to separate the company from the rest of Novartis.

This process is expected to continue into 2020, and could clear the way for a decision about whether to sell the division, as Narasimhan reshapes Novartis to focus on cutting-edge therapies.

Novartis is already spinning off its ophthalmology division, Alcon, and has sold off its over-the-counter products to GlaxoSmithKline, previously part of a joint venture between the two companies.

Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Michael Nawrath told Reuters: “We see our assumption confirmed that in the next 12 to 18 months a definitive decision may come about whether the generic unit will remain within Novartis.”

“Even though the Novartis chairman said recently Sandoz isn’t for sale for now, a spin-off like they’re doing with Alcon would align with the strategy of becoming a focused, pure-play drugmaker.”

Richard Francis

Francis said: “The past five years have been immensely satisfying and rewarding. I am very proud of what we have achieved as a team. Together, we have expanded access to medicines across the world and reached many millions of patients.  In particular, we have successfully launched five biosimilar products.

“As we announced earlier this year, Sandoz is embarking on a significant transformation. While I am excited by this, I realize that this is a multi-year journey which I cannot commit to and therefore have decided that now is the right time to step down.”

Narasimhan added: “As we initiate a multi-year transformation program for the business and move to make it more autonomous, Richard has decided that for personal reasons he cannot commit to stay with Sandoz until the transformation is completed. I understand his decision and wish him the very best for the future.”

Balestrieri has spent the last eight years running commercial operations in generics, most recently as Region Head Sandoz Europe which represents half of the Sandoz’ global sales and organisation.

He has been with Novartis for 25 years and previously held various leadership positions at Ciba Vision including  Head of Ciba Vision US. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Venice.



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