Vasant (Vas) Narasimhan has been named as the global chief executive officer (CEO) of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, making him the first Indian origin person to hold the post in a large pharma multinational.
Narasimhan, 41, a doctor from Harvard Medical School, is a second-generation immigrant in the US. His parents moved there from Tamil Nadu in the 1970s. He has been with Novartis
since 2005. At present, he holds the post of global head of drug development and chief medical officer and will assume the new post from February. Before joining Novartis, he worked at McKinsey & Co.
Narasimhan replaces incumbent Joseph Jimenez
who reshaped the pharma company through business swaps and sharpened its focus on new drug development in the wake of patent expiries of top selling drugs Diovan and Gleevec.
According to Bloomberg, Narasimhan is the youngest among new CEOs in a large pharma company. Emma Walmsley, who took charge as global CEO of GlaxoSmithKline in April, is 48. David Ricks, who became CEO of Eli Lilly & Co in January, is 50.
“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 confident about our future,” Narasimhan said in a statement.
In 2016, Novartis
notched sales of $48.5 billion and spent $9 billion on research and development globally. Its products are sold in 155 countries, including in India where it operates through a listed entity. Novartis
also runs a development centre in Hyderabad, which supports its global clinical trials. Novartis
India reported sales of Rs 656 crore in FY17.
Subhanu Saxena, who previously held leadership roles in Cipla and Novartis, believes Narasimhan would be able to rejuvenate the pipeline and show that innovation and access can go hand in hand to benefit millions of patients. “Joe (Joseph Jimenez) has left a more focused legacy for Vas, yet there is still much to do to build a leading pipeline and sharpen focus further," Saxena said.
“The appointment is extremely significant and is indicative of the growing stature of life-sciences professionals from India,” said Utkarsh Palnitkar, national head (life-science practice) of KPMG India.
Indians have made it to leadership roles in other big pharma companies, too, at the global level. Udit Batra serves on the executive board of German drugmaker Merck and is also the CEO of its life-science division. Ameet Nathwani, a British citizen of Indian origin, is executive vice-president of medical affairs at Sanofi.