Novartis' Vasella to focus on being chairman, bows out from CEO role

BASEL, Switzerland Daniel Vasella will step down as CEO of Novartis to focus on his position as chairman, with pharmaceutical division head Joe Jimenez taking his place, the Swiss drug maker announced Tuesday.

The leadership change comes amid news that the company had net sales of $44.3 billion in 2009, a 7% rise over the year before, along with an 8% rise in profits, to $10.3 billion. Among individual divisions, generics arm Sandoz saw a rise by 5%, when factoring in currency exchange rates, along with 12% for pharmaceuticals, 39% for vaccines and diagnostics –– driven by sales of the H1N1 vaccine –– and 5% for consumer health.

“Novartis delivered an excellent performance in 2009, driven by strong underlying growth across our entire healthcare portfolio,” Vasella said.

That includes more than 30 new product approvals in the United States, Europe and Japan, including the launch of the schizophrenia treatment Fanapt (iloperidone) and Japanese approvals of the diabetes treatment Equa (vildagliptin), the hypertension drug Exforge (valsartan and amlodipine) and the kidney cancer drug Afinitor (everolimus).

All of the divisions expect to grow in 2010 except for vaccines and diagnostics, which expects lower sales than in 2009 despite expected approval of the meningococcal meningitis vaccine Menveo. The company also expects to acquire a 77% stake in the eye-care company Alcon from Nestle and subsequently acquire the remaining 23%.