Sandoz CEO Steps Down as Novartis Transforms Its Generics Unit

Man in suit holding banker's box

Richard Francis, chief executive officer of Sandoz, has stepped down from his position as parent company Novartis undertakes a year-and-a-half-long transformation of its Sandoz business unit.

Francis’ last day with Sandoz will be March 31. Francesco Balestrieri, who is currently Region Head Europe for Sandoz, has been appointed interim CEO. He will report to Vas Narasimhan, the CEO of Novartis

Francis has helmed the generics subsidiary for five years. In a statement, Francis said the past five years have been both satisfying and rewarding. In his statement, Francis pointed to the transformation that Sandoz is expected to undertake. He said it’s a multi-year project that is something he cannot commit to.

“… and therefore (I) have decided that now is the right time to step down,” Francis said. “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.”

Narasimhan touted the successes Sandoz has seen under the guidance of Francis. He noted that during his tenure at Sandoz, the company has become a leader in biosimilar development. Narasimhan also noted that Francis has helped guide Sandoz through “changing market dynamics and challenging headwinds in the U.S.”

“Now, 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,” Narasimhan said.

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Balestrieri, who will take over for Francis, has spent the last eight years running commercial operations in generics. His most recent role was as head of Sandoz Europe, which represents half of the Sandoz' global sales and organization. He has been with Novartis for 25 years.

Since taking over as head of Novartis, Narasimhan has initiated a number of changes for Sandoz. In September, the company sold U.S. dermatology and generic drug assets that were under the Sandoz umbrella to India’s Aurobindo Pharma. Dermatology products that were part of the deal included topical antibiotics, gynecological and dermatological antifungal medications, anti-acne drugs, local anesthetics and painkillers, anti-itch medications, and a dermatological chemotherapy drug. The oral non-dermatological assets that were part of the deal included products that ranged from auto-immune diseases, anti-neoplastic drugs and hormonal therapies.

While Novartis has said it is transforming Sandoz, there has been some speculation the company plans to spin it off or divest it completely. Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Michael Nawrath told Reuters that spinning out Sandoz would actually align with Novartis’ current strategy that has included significant house cleaning of some assets.

“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,” Nawrath told Reuters.

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