Novartis poaches AbbVie veteran to be new chief legal officer after losing its own to Moderna

Novartis has hired AbbVie's deputy general counsel, Karen Hale, as its new chief legal officer. (AbbVie)

After losing its chief legal officer to booming biotech Moderna, Novartis has quickly found a replacement in an AbbVie veteran with both legal and compliance experience.

Karen Hale, currently AbbVie’s deputy general counsel, will join Novartis as its chief legal officer on May 15, the Swiss pharma said Monday.

In choosing Hale, Novartis has kept its top lawyer job in the hands of a woman after Shannon Klinger abruptly left for mRNA vaccine specialist Moderna. And it has picked someone with a very similar career path as her predecessor.

Hale joined the Illinois drugmaker back when it was still Abbott, coming from the law firm Sidley & Austin in 1997—and she’s kept her pharma career within the company since. Before starting her current stint, Hale served as AbbVie’s chief ethics & compliance officer for six years.

Klinger, too, served as Novartis’ chief ethics & compliance officer between 2016 and 2018 before taking over as chief legal officer in the wake of the Michael Cohen scandal. Novartis has introduced new ethics guidelines and tightened its practice since then.

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During her tenure, Klinger has been known for her updated preferred law firm program, launched a year ago, which comes with strict staffing diversity requirements for outside legal services.

And besides overseeing high-profile litigation matters, Hale, a Black woman, also leads AbbVie’s racial justice efforts. AbbVie recently launched a $50 million program, spearheaded by Hale, to support health and education opportunities in Black communities.  

“We asked partners with deep community roots where they saw the greatest needs, and we heard that reducing health disparities and providing educational and workforce-related opportunities for underserved Black communities were urgent yet ongoing needs,” she said in a statement in December. “While we know that change cannot happen overnight, we hope our commitments will help improve opportunity today while supporting important work to address long-term, systemic issues of racism.”

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Novartis values both Hales’ 20-year legal experience and her dedication to driving diversity. “Karen is a proven senior legal leader with extensive global experience across key healthcare legal and compliance domains,” Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said in a statement Monday. “She also brings to the Novartis executive team deep U.S. experience and a passion to advance racial justice.”

At AbbVie, Hale managed complex commercial litigation and provided counsel on corporate issues, according to Novartis. Under Klinger, Novartis has in 2020 settled several damaging kickback and charity donation suits and successfully staved off generic challenges to its patents around top-selling multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya. But some lingering legal matters remain.

These include countrywide litigation by state attorneys that alleges price-fixing and market allocation among generic drugmakers, including Novartis’ Sandoz. It came after Sandoz agreed to pay $195 million last year and entered deferred prosecution to settle federal claims that it took part in a generic price-fixing scheme between 2013 and 2015.