Novartis nabs GSK executive for Sandoz CEO, bringing in a familiar face—and some digital prowess

Novartis
Novartis is transforming Sandoz into an autonomous unit within the larger company, and it has tapped a former executive and ex-GlaxoSmithKline digital lead to take the reins. (Novartis)

Novartis is transforming Sandoz into an autonomous unit within the larger company. And it has tapped a former executive from the business—and an ex-GSK digital lead—to take the reins, fitting neatly into CEO Vas Narasimhan’s digital ambitions for the Big Pharma.

Richard Saynor, currently SVP of classic and established products as well as commercial and digital platforms at GlaxoSmithKline, will become CEO of Sandoz by Aug. 1, Novartis said Wednesday alongside its first-quarter results.

Saynor will fill a vacancy now covered ad interim since Richard Francis, its former CEO, left at the end of March. Top on his to-do list will be seeing through what Narasimhan called a multiyear transformation that focuses on turning Sandoz into a standalone unit within the large company, a task that will allow it “the right capabilities and the right freedom to operate in order to be successful,” the CEO said on a Wednesday briefing with reporters.

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The new chief is no stranger to Sandoz; he once held commercial leadership roles at the generics unit and oversaw its expansion in Asia, Latin America and Turkey. But on top of his familiarity with the franchise, Narasimhan might have seen something else in Saynor: His experience in digital solutions.

In addition to running $10 billion worth of established products at GSK, Saynor also oversees the commercial digital platforms across all of the British drugmaker’s pharma portfolios. That means Narasimhan will have a digital veteran at the Sandoz level to carry out his vision of turning Novartis into a medicines company powered by data science and advanced therapy platforms.

RELATED: How far will Novartis’ Sandoz go to ‘differentiate’ itself? Into branded drugs, apparently

Richard Saynor (GSK)

Toward the digital part of that goal, Novartis brought on ex-Argos chief digital and marketing officer Bertrand Bodson as its first chief digital officer shortly before Narasimhan officially took over as CEO. Last March, the company signed up with Pear Therapeutics to work on software applications that aim to treat schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

For Sandoz specifically, it followed up with that Pear partnership and took on the responsibility of selling two prescription digital therapeutics: reSET and reSET-O, for patients with substance use disorder or with opioid use disorder, respectively.

Sandoz is still under generics pricing pressure in the U.S., which has continuously hurt its performance. In the first quarter, sales were off 2% on constant currencies, as U.S. pricing was again cited as the culprit behind the drop. The $2.33 billion it raked in came slightly below analysts’ consensus, according to Jefferies.

RELATED: Novartis puts AI on the job to help reps say the right things to the right doctors

There has been speculation that Novartis is granting Sandoz autonomy only for the convenience of a future sale or spinoff. Narasimhan, on the company's results call this morning, said “no real change” is happening to its plan for Sandoz and again stressed that the three-pronged overhaul could take several years to complete.

Right now, it is trying to improve the overall cost base of Sandoz and revamping its portfolio to focus on hard-to-make generics and biosimilars. Geographically, it is still on track to sell its U.S. dermatology and oral solids portfolio to India’s Aurobindo within this year, and it's planning to exit some regions, including parts of Africa, where it’s not in a good position to compete, according to Narasimhan.

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