Exiting Novartis AG CEO Sets His Sights on Silicon Valley and Its Biotech Startups

Published: Sep 11, 2017

Exiting Novartis AG CEO Sets His Sights on Silicon Valley and Its Biotech Startups September 8, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

On Sept. 5, Joseph Jimenez, the chief executive officer of Novartis , announced he was stepping down at the end of January 2018 from the company he ran since 2010. In his statement at the time, he said, “On the personal side, after 10 wonderful years in Switzerland, my family is ready to return to Silicon Valley and the U.S.”

After processing the fact that Vasant Narasimhan, the company’s global head of Drug Development and chief medical officer, will soon be running the company, thoughts began to turn to exactly what Jimenez plans to do.

Matthew Herper, writing for Forbes, spoke with Jimenez on his plans. Jimenez is no stranger to Silicon Valley. He and his wife met at Stanford University. Their three children, who are either in college or early adulthood, all live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“When I think of what really excites me, it’s where biology comes together with technology, like when you think about what’s happening right now in the valley in California,” Jimenez told Herper. In this regard, he’s largely referring to how the big tech companies like Google/Alphabet, Apple and Facebook are turning to healthcare.

Novartis has a deal with Verily Life Sciences, a Google/Alphabet company, to develop a contact lens that can determine blood sugar levels of diabetics. It’s a tough nut to crack and plenty of experts in the field are skeptical, but Jimenez indicates that a prototype has been built and, according to Herper, “that it showed him that engineering could benefit from healthcare knowhow.”

And although his tenure at Novartis was marked by numerous things, including the development of Cosentyx for psoriasis and Kisqali for breast cancer, and a complex, $30 billion deal where it traded much of its vaccines unit for GlaxoSmithKline ’s cancer portfolio, he led many other collaborations with tech companies. Examples are a deal with Proteus Digital Health to develop drugs with sensors in the tablets that can let patients know they’re not taking the drug as prescribed, and a deal with Microsoft to use Xbox gaming systems to analyze movement in multiple sclerosis patients.

“The thing that needs to be fixed is the inefficiency in the U.S. healthcare system,” Jimenez told Herper. “This is a system that is going to implode based on the burden of disease, for instance, Alzheimer’s disease. How are we going to pay for the innovation that’s coming? The only way is to get rid of the inefficiency in the system. That’s where I see digital technology starting to have a significant impact.”

Perhaps it’s his background with Clorox Co., ConAgra Foods and H.J. Heinz Co. that has Jimenez seeing the solutions related to tech rather than to, say, affordable new medicines for disease like Alzheimer’s. Or maybe he doesn’t feel that will lead to a solution to inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system itself.

Or perhaps because that requires political solutions, he doesn’t see that as a particularly easy route. One of the programs implemented by Jimenez at Novartis was marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Kymriah. Novartis says it will cost $475,000 per patient, but, as Herper writes, “only for those who had less cancer after a month. This type of ‘outcomes-based’ pricing model had been one Jimenez had been musing about for years. But says he has no regrets about leaving it in other people’s hands. ‘Outcomes-based pricing is the way that we’re going to at least improve the efficiency of the system for the pharmaceutical business. I’m proud of the fact that there’s no momentum in the company, and I think it’s on its way regardless of whether I’m here.’”

He made no specific indication if he has plans to head a tech company or perhaps take a role with one of the big tech companies focusing on healthcare. Stay tuned.

Back to news