Novartis names Bulto new U.S. pharma chief as exec reshuffle continues

Victor Bulto will become new president of Novartis Pharmaceuticals in the U.S. (Novartis)

Novartis’ leadership shakeup under CEO Vas Narasimhan has led to a new U.S. pharmaceutical chief.

Fabrice Chouraqui, who took on the U.S. job in 2016 from now-Gilead exec Christi Shaw, will step down at the end of August, Novartis said. He’ll be replaced by Victor Bulto, who currently serves as the head of Novartis' U.S. immunology, hepatology and dermatology franchise.

The Swiss drugmaker didn’t offer a reason for Chouraqui’s departure but praised his “strong leadership, ethics and integrity.”

Bulto, a 14-year Novartis exec, was key in driving the U.S. success of psoriasis drug Cosentyx, which enjoyed 31% second-quarter sales growth in the U.S., to $534 million. He has also worked across every therapeutic area at Novartis, the company said.

RELATED: Novartis bids goodbye to Hudson, hello to new pharma chief Tschudin

He will report to Marie France Tschudin, president of Novartis Pharmaceuticals globally, who just herself came onto that role after Paul Hudson left to take the helm at Sanofi from retiring Olivier Brandicourt.

Tschudin and Bulto are just the latest examples of senior leadership changes at Novartis. Richard Saynor, a former GlaxoSmithKline exec, just took over the Sandoz CEO title from Richard Francis, who left amid a multiyear transformation Narasimhan initiated that's aiming to turn the generics business into a standalone unit within Novartis.

Short-termed former Novartis Oncology lead Liz Barrett was officially replaced by company veteran Susanne Schaffert in January. Back in 2018, Shannon Thyme Klinger was promoted to general counsel after Felix Ehrat resigned in the wake of the $1.2 million Michael Cohen crisis, and her old chief ethics, risk and compliance officer job was filled by former Siemens ethics overseer Klaus Moosmayer in December.

RELATED: FDA ready to crack down as Novartis reveals manipulated Zolgensma data

Chouraqui’s exit also comes at a delicate time for the company, as Novartis is battling a data manipulation scandal around its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy gene therapy Zolgensma. That drug, however, is outside the Novartis U.S. pharma chief’s purview because it’s managed by AveXis, an Illinois-based neurological genetic disease specialist Novartis bought last year for $8.7 billion.

Novartis has said it’s in the process of removing a small number of AveXis scientists responsible for falsifying Zolgensma animal testing data used in its drug application process. During a call with investors, Narasimhan said he doesn’t believe the misstep represents a systemic problem at AveXis but rather “an isolated incident of certain individuals.” But as the criticism mounts, it's possible more heads will roll.