Novartis splits U.S. honcho's job in two as current chief Christi Shaw steps down

Novartis will see a changing of the guard in the U.S. next week. Christi Shaw, who has headed up the Swiss drugmaker’s U.S. operations since April 2014, is stepping down for personal and family reasons, to be replaced by two current Novartis execs.

Shaw “has made a personal decision to leave Novartis and has chosen to step away from her career,” the company said in an emailed statement, thanking Shaw for her “inspirational leadership” and passion for the job.

Novartis ($NVS) also credited Shaw with the fast uptake of its new psoriasis med Cosentyx, which has quickly outpaced the company’s own expectations. The drug’s rollout is “one of the most successful launches in the industry to date,” the company said. Approved in January 2015, the drug brought in $176 million in the first quarter.

As one of the highest-ranking women in Big Pharma, Shaw was widely viewed as a mentor for other women and as an advocate for female employees at the company. She was featured in Working Mother magazine and was one of FierceBiotech’s Top Women in Biopharma last fall.

As of May 1, Shaw’s job will be split in two. Fabrice Chouraqui, who joined the company in 2010, will become president of Novartis Pharmaceuticals in the U.S. That division’s general counsel, Tom Kendris, will take on the broader role of U.S. country president.

Chouraqui has worked in drug development, commercial operations and general management in various countries in Europe and Asia, as well as in the U.S., the company said in a statement. According to Chouraqui’s LinkedIn profile, he most recently served as president of the Latin America and Canada region, and before that, headed up the company’s global neuroscience franchise. Before joining Novartis, he was VP of commercial operations in the Asia-Pacific region for Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY).

As with most Big Pharma companies, Novartis depends heavily on the U.S. market for growth, and its lineup isn’t without its problems. A generic version of its top-selling drug, the leukemia treatment Gleevec, launched Feb. 1, and it’s already taking a bite out of the brand’s sales. Former blood pressure blockbusters Diovan and Exforge are still declining, and the eye drug Lucentis is suffering on stepped-up competition from Regeneron ($REGN) and Bayer’s Eylea.

And though Cosentyx has taken its market by storm, another new Novartis med--the highly anticipated heart failure drug Entresto--has started off more slowly than the company expected. Its first-quarter sales, reported Thursday, amounted to just $17 million, far short of analyst forecasts, and Novartis set out a full-year sales estimate of just $200 million for the med. The company is working with payers and retraining its U.S. salesforce in hopes of jump-starting the launch.

Meanwhile, outside the pharma business, Novartis is grappling with a slowdown at its eye unit Alcon, now headed up by former Hospira chief F. Michael Ball. The company is working to squeeze costs out of its manufacturing network and cut other spending to fund investments in Alcon and spending on new drug launches.

Special Report: Top women in biopharma 2015 - Christi Shaw, Novartis

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