Novartis hires seasoned Wall Street analyst Ronny Gal as new M&A czar

As part a major reorganization, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan created a new position overseeing the company’s corporate strategy. Now, he has found that leader in the form of a high-profile Wall Street analyst.

Longtime Sanford Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal, Ph.D., will join Novartis as chief strategy and growth officer, effective no later than Aug. 1, Novartis said Tuesday.

Gal brings more than 20 years of experience—including 17 years at Bernstein—in the life sciences industry from the financial research side, having provided some of the most insightful analyses of biopharma companies across a broad range of topics. Through the new role, the savvy sell-side analyst is tasked with leading Novartis’ corporate strategy, R&D portfolio optimization and business development.

“He is a thought-leader in the healthcare sector and is widely recognized for his deep thematic research across therapeutic areas, technology platforms and key industry topics such as the U.S. drug delivery system and efforts to reform it,” Novartis said of Gal in a statement.

Narasimhan described Gal as “one of the most seasoned and experienced analysts” of the biopharma sector. The Swiss pharma hopes Gal’s knowledge of therapeutic areas, technology platforms, clinical development and U.S. market dynamics could help the company shape its overall strategy, prioritize its internal pipeline and drive external opportunities, the CEO said during a press call Tuesday.

Gal will report directly to Narasimhan, who created the chief strategy and growth officer title amid a major organizational reshuffle unveiled earlier this month. At that time, Narasimhan stressed the independence of the new role from Novartis’ R&D and commercial teams, from which he carved out the functions.

“I think the company could benefit from having an independent view on whether the assets we take forward either internally or externally [...] can really generate that multibillion-dollar potential we’re looking for and have that voice in the room so that we can then say ‘no’ to the projects that aren’t going to make it and have the resources available to really invest in the ones that we believe do,” Narasimhan said at the time.

Novartis recently landed $20.7 billion from selling its stake in Swiss rival Roche. After that, Novartis laid out a plan to buy back up to $15 billion worth of shares by the end of 2023. But that still leaves the company with additional cash at its disposal.

Biotech valuations have recently come down, which could mean more M&A opportunities, Narasimhan observed during the press call. But the science has to support any transactions, the CEO said, noting many young biotechs went public in recent years that “may not have been mature enough with their science.” Plus, it could take some time before the biotech value adjustments reach a point that justifies expectations, he added.

At this point, Novartis’ M&A focus remains on targets with a deal size below $2 billion, Narasimhan said.

Gal is the latest example of the industry taking advantage of Wall Street expertise, but most past cases have involved biotechs rather than a Big Pharma company. Just a few days ago, former Cantor Fitzgerald analyst and biotech research head Alethia Young became the chief financial officer at gene editing company Graphite Bio.

Last year, oncology-focused Immuneering Corporation brought on Jefferies analyst Biren Amin as its CFO. Back in 2018, longtime Cowen analyst Eric Schmidt took over the CFO job at CAR-T startup Allogene Therapeutics. That same year, TCR2 Therapeutics named a new CFO in BMO Capital Markets analyst Ian Somaiya, who hopped to Elucida Oncology as chief financial and business officer in November 2021.