Novartis wants more digital—and needs better compliance—and it's shuffling executives to do it

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Novartis' new executive team steps up its focus on manufacturing tech, digital efforts and ethics revamp. (Novartis)

Novartis just rejigged its executive committee for three obvious reasons: Its operations chief is leaving, it’s aiming for big things in digital and it needs to tighten focus on ethics and compliance after a series of scandals around the globe.

André Wyss, the Swiss drugmaker’s director of operations, is making a quick exit to “pursue opportunities outside of Novartis,” the company said in a Monday statement. His job will be divided up, but only one of his three successors joins the top brass.

Bertrand Bodson, Novartis' first chief digital officer, will now sit on the executive committee and report directly to CEO Vas Narasimhan, showing just how important the company sees its ambitions in the digital world.

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And finally the company has tapped Shannon Klinger as chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, who also joins the top brass. The move elevates that function, putting Narasimhan's direct attention onto a problem whose most recent manifestation is a bribery investigation making big headlines in Greece. Novartis recently revised its compliance and ethics policies to help prevent the legal crackdowns it has faced in other countries, including South Korea, where a bribery investigation ended in the indictment of a cadre of employees who've since been dismissed. 

Klinger's appointment comes one week after shareholders urged the company to act to avoid ongoing problems with compliance. "Corruption cannot be allowed to become a tradition," one shareholder rep, Veronika Hendry, said during Novartis' annual meeting last Monday.

And Bodson's move onto the executive committee follows a new deal, announced March 1, with Pear Therapeutics to develop software applications that could go to the FDA for approval and pair up with prescription drugs, partly to help support value-based pricing with payers. Narasimhan has said that one of his top goals is to use technology to transform the way Novartis does business in every area, from research to commercial.

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Wyss will be replaced by three newly appointed executives. Steffan Lang becomes global head of technical operations, and he'll report to the CEO. The company will bring on a new chief of Novartis business services, and Philippe Barrois, who now heads up Novartis corporate affairs, will fill in on an interim basis. The business services group handles back office operations for Novartis, and was one of former CEO Joe Jimenez's cost-cutting initiatives.

Lang had headed up Novartis' biologics manufacturing, giving him important expertise now that the company is selling one of the world's first CAR-T cell therapies, Kymriah, and relying on several new biologic drugs for growth, including the breast cancer drug Kisqali and the anti-inflammatory blockbuster Cosentyx. Novartis recently said it would expand a biologics site to keep up demand for that fast-growing med.