People, R&D

Novartis poaches Bristol-Myers/Amgen vet John Tsai for top drug development post in a $9B organization

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found his replacement as head of their global drug development organization at Amgen, a big pharma partner which has led the work on their new migraine drug.

John Tsai, the chief medical officer at Amgen, is now taking the job Narasimhan left as he moved up to the top suite in Basel. And he’ll be taking one of the most visible jobs in drug R&D at a group that spends about $9 billion a year on everything from discovery to approval — in the top 3 R&D budgets on the planet with Merck and Roche.

Tsai — who’ll be working closely with Jay Bradner at NIBR — won’t have a lot of time to settle in.

Jay Bradner

Novartis’ pipeline includes an industry leading effort on cell and gene therapy which inspired the recent $8.7 billion buyout of AveXis. The development group is winding up for a pitch on the MS drug siponimod, the cardio drug canakinumab and RTH258, which is being positioned as a direct threat to Regeneron’s big Eylea franchise. And there’s the big erenumab program, lining up as the first new CGRP drug for migraines.

Tsai has moved through a series of top drug development posts in several of the industry’s top players without making much of a splash or drawing much attention to himself along the way. After working as a cardio group leader at Pfizer from 2000 to 2006 he jumped to Bristol-Myers as head of US medical in 2009.

From there he hopped from CMO Europe to head of worldwide medical, oncology full development leader and then chief of clinical development and medical head for marketed products. That background gave Tsai extensive experience in oncology, neuroscience and cardio.

He moved to Amgen just under a year ago. 

Tsai got his medical degree at the University of Louisville School of Medicine after starting out as an engineer at GE.

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