Novartis lures John Tsai from Amgen to fill CMO seat

Novartis
Novartis headquarters. (Novartis)

Vas Narasimhan, M.D., has persuaded John Tsai, M.D., to fill the vacant CMO role at Novartis. Tsai took up the same position at Amgen just 11 months ago but had his head turned by the digitally enabled pipeline Narasimhan is building at Novartis.

Narasimhan has moved quickly to make his mark on Novartis since stepping up from CMO to CEO in February, striking an $8.7 billion takeover of gene therapy biotech AveXis and sketching out a vision for how technology will overhaul drug development. But Narasimhan’s vacation of the CMO position left him reliant on temporary cover for a critical role.

Now, Narasimhan has found his CMO. Tsai arrives at Novartis following an 18-year tour of leading biopharma companies. After a six-year stint at Pfizer, Tsai moved to Bristol-Myers Squibb and rose to the position of clinical development and medical head, marketed products. Tsai’s rise caught the attention of Amgen, leading the big biotech to name him CMO in May. But the interest of Novartis has brought Tsai’s stay at the company to a premature end.  

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Tsai’s résumé ticks many of the boxes all Big Pharmas look for in a CMO—and some that are more specific to Narasimhan’s plans for Novartis.  

“His expertise across multiple therapeutic areas, including cardiovascular, oncology and neuroscience combined with his background in electrical engineering will be a source of great strength for Novartis,” Narasimhan said in a statement.

Tsai accrued cardiovascular clinical experience during his time at Pfizer, where he focused on the field and oversaw 26 pivotal studies. The breadth of Tsai’s work expanded at Bristol-Myers. After starting out at Bristol-Myers in his cardiovascular sweet spot, Tsai soon started taking on general medical roles and went on to specialize in oncology for a time. 

The appointment allows Rob Kowalski, Ph.D., to relinquish his temporary hold on the CMO role and return his full focus to his responsibilities as head of global regulatory affairs. 

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