As CEO Schultz eyes retirement, Teva taps former Sandoz head Francis as its next leader

Pharma regime shifts have become the norm this month as outfits such as Biogen and Seagen wrapped up monthslong searches for new chief executives. For generics juggernaut Teva Pharmaceutical, however, the hunt has ended sooner than expected, with a new helmsman waiting in the wings mere weeks after the company revealed its mission to replace current top executive Kåre Schultz.

On the first day of the new year, former Sandoz chief Richard Francis will take the reins from Schultz, who is hanging up his CEO hat to retire on Dec. 31, Teva said Monday. The news comes a little more than two weeks after Teva publicly said it was looking for Schultz’s replacement.

At the time, the company noted Schultz wouldn’t renew his contract when it was set to expire in November 2023, suggesting the helmsman might have stuck around for another year.

“We have positioned Teva as a leader in both our specialty and generics businesses,” Schultz said in a statement, noting “[t]his is the right time for a transition.”

As for Francis, the biopharma veteran is currently serving as CEO of both gene therapy outfit Purespring Therapeutics and heart function specialist Forcefield Therapeutics. But his more relevant experience is the five years he served as the leader of Novartis’ generics unit Sandoz.

Francis led Sandoz from 2014 to 2019, when he was replaced by ex-GSK digital lead Richard Saynor. Novartis tapped Saynor to spearhead the company amid Sandoz’s “de-integration” from its parent in a bid to transform it into a more autonomous unit within the larger company.

After near-constant speculation, Novartis officially unveiled plans to spin out Sandoz this summer. 

Prior to his Sandoz run, Francis served as a senior executive at Biogen for 13 years, including a spell as leader of the Big Biotech’s U.S. business. That experience should serve Teva as the drugmaker works to make the most out of its branded medicines, including migraine prevention therapy Ajovy and tardive dyskinesia drug Austedo.

Francis said in a statement he’s excited to “write the next exciting chapter for Teva,” with a focus on building a “solid pathway to deliver long-term growth.” He highlighted the company’s “bright future,” which looks a bit less dreary these days after Schultz revealed plans earlier this month to finalize Teva’s $4.35 billion national opioid settlement by the end of the year and start paying up in 2023.

With that litigation burden soon to be in the rearview, Teva has been plotting a return to mid- to single-digit revenue growth by 2027. That could suggest that small bolt-on acquisitions of companies and products are on Teva’s radar, Schultz told investors over the summer.

Still, Francis will have his share of hurdles to surmount when he takes up the baton in January, not least of which is an Adderall shortage currently making mainstream headlines around the U.S.

The culmination of Teva’s CEO search comes after some recent CEO appointments at other notable drugmakers. For Biogen, which is still shaking off its Aduhelm hangover in Alzheimer’s disease, the company is now being led by former Sanofi helmsman Christopher Viehbacher, who took over from Michel Vounatsos last Monday.

Just a few days before Biogen announced the appointment of its new leader, Seagen—whose former CEO Clay Siegall stepped aside in the aftermath of a domestic abuse arrest earlier this year—said it had tapped oncology veteran David Epstein as its new chief.