Vas Narasimhan is still keen to shake up Novartis AG after orchestrating more than $50 billion of deals in his first year at the helm of the pharmaceutical giant, and he has the firepower to do it.
With plans to spend more than $10 billion a year on acquisitions, Big Pharma’s youngest boss is hunting for partnerships to develop groundbreaking gene therapies. He’s also weighing sales of Sandoz assets in Asia and emerging markets amid speculation about the fate of the overall generic-drugs business.
His flurry of opening moves — spinning off the Alcon eye-care division, ditching a stake in a consumer-health venture and three key acquisitions — have added up to a seismic shift at Europe’s largest drugmaker by market value. Since taking over early last year, Narasimhan has sharpened Novartis’s focus on competing with AstraZeneca Plc, Roche Holding AG and other rivals developing cutting-edge drugs.
“We’ll have to be on top of the next wave of innovations,” Narasimhan, 42, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. “What we’re going to have to do to be successful in the long run is to keep an eye on what will be the next big fields.”
The pressure is on to deliver. Novartis needs new products, like the experimental gene therapy Zolgensma, as the expiring patents of blockbusters like cancer drug Gleevec and multiple sclerosis treatment Gilenya are expected to hurt sales. Pushback from insurers and governments to limit price increases and escalating drug-development costs are also causing industry-wide pain.