Novartis divides pharma unit in two as division chief Epstein makes an exit

Novartis

Novartis is revamping its pharmaceuticals unit with two new divisions, neither of them headed up by current pharma chief David Epstein.

Paul Hudson will take the reins of the revamped Novartis Pharmaceuticals unit, while Bruno Strigini will lead the newly created Novartis Oncology. Hudson had been EVP for North America, and Strigini previously headed up the Swiss drugmaker’s oncology business.

The new structure follows Novartis’ 2015 buyout of GlaxoSmithKline’s oncology business, which amped up the company’s cancer drug lineup and made it into one of the leading companies in the field. Strigini “was instrumental in the successful integration of the oncology assets acquired from GSK,” Novartis said in announcing the revamp.

Meanwhile, Hudson has “broad pharmaceutical industry experience,” Novartis said, particularly in cardiovascular and immunology drugs, two big therapeutic areas for the drugmaker. The company launched its heart failure med Entresto last year, and though it has underperformed sales expectations so far, it’s still expected to eventually grow to blockbuster status. Cosentyx, the psoriasis drug also launched in 2015, has outpaced expectations, and Novartis hopes to expand it into new diseases.

Epstein will leave Novartis “to explore new challenges from the U.S.,” the company said in its statement. His departure follows that of Christi Shaw, who had headed up Novartis’ U.S. business unit. Shaw left the company for personal reasons, the company said in announcing her exit last month. Her job was also split between two U.S. executives, one heading up U.S. pharma, the other in charge of Novartis’ overall business in the U.S.

Epstein has been pegged as a potential contender to replace GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty, who’s planning to leave next March. There’s no firm indication that Epstein is actually under consideration for the job, however.

CEO Joe Jimenez credited Epstein for building Novartis' "leading oncology business" and for steering the company's pharma division "through a period of excellence in innovation, execution and improved financial results." Epstein and his teams led development and rollouts for top Novartis meds such as the leukemia drug Gleevec, the multiple sclerosis pill Gilenya, Cosentyx and Entresto, Jimenez said.

- see the Novartis release

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