Novartis names two new leaders to growth drivers Alcon, Sandoz

Jeff George, new head of Novartis' Alcon eye-care unit

Novartis, amid a company-wide strategic review, has said some of its underperforming units may be on the way out. But as it draws up its blueprints for the future, it's also working to bolster its star businesses, and Wednesday it announced some changes at the top of two of its key divisions.

According to the company ($NVS), Sandoz head Jeff George will take over for the retiring Kevin Buehler as the head of the company's Alcon eye-care unit. Richard Francis, a former Biogen Idec ($BIIB) U.S. commercial chief, will fill the head Sandoz role in his place, with both appointments effective May 1.

Novartis will look to both George and Francis to pick up where their predecessors left off. Behind the pharmaceuticals division, Alcon and Sandoz bring in the bulk of the company's revenue; in 2013, both units' sales grew by 5% in constant currency, with Alcon generating $10.5 billion and Sandoz chipping in $9.2 billion.

"These new leaders will set the direction for the next phase of growth for our eye care and generics businesses, two of our core growth engines," Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez said in a statement. "Both Jeff and Richard have the vision and expertise to strengthen our market-leading positions."

Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez

For Sandoz, that will mean navigating the broadening world of biosimilars; the unit hocks three already, and it boasts a market-leading lineup of 7 late-stage biosimilar studies on 5 treatments. And as Sandoz continues to carve out a market for generic biologic products, Francis' commercial experience at biologics-maker Biogen could come in handy. He may also have to compete with his former company, which is partnered with Korea's Samsung to develop biosimilars.

The new moves are just a piece of the changes the Swiss drugmaker has in store. Like some of its Big Pharma peers, the company appears ready to slim down; Since Chairman Joerg Reinhardt embarked on his strategic review last August, the company has divested its blood transfusion diagnostics unit to Spain's Grifols, and Jimenez has said animal health, vaccines or consumer healthcare could be right behind it.

- read the release

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