New Leadership for Novartis Oncology China


Portuguese national Isabel Afonso, a Novartis and Sandoz veteran of almost 20 years, has taken on a new role as general manager of Novartis’ highly strategic oncology franchise in China as of November 2021.


Since first joining the company back in 2002, Afonso held a variety of roles IT and commercial roles in both Novartis and its generics arm Sandoz. After a three-year stint as chief commercial officer for US-based Performance Health, a rehabilitation and sports medicine market leader, Afonso returned to Novartis as head of strategy and portfolio management for Novartis Oncology China, based at global headquarters in Basel in 2018 and – after just eight months – she is now moving over to China to take on the general manager role.


Writing on LinkedIn, Afonso said “Today is my first day as General Manager of Novartis Oncology China. Moving to China has been a purpose-driven decision. My motto is to grow with passion and make a lasting impact. Working in Oncology and China provides me with an incredible opportunity to fulfil my purpose. I am very thankful to be here and look forward to working with the team and making a lasting impact on patients!”


The Chinese market has been highlighted as a “top priority” by Novartis CEO Vas Nasarimhan and plans are afoot to double the company’s China business by 2025, making the region its second-largest in the world.


“In 2020, we were amongst the fastest-growing multinationals in China,” Nasarimhan told reporters earlier this year upon announcement of Novartis’ 2020 financial results. “We have high teens growth in our innovative medicines business in China, we led the industry in new National [Reimbursement Drug List] listings [and] we also have now a pipeline of medicines we expect to come forward in 2021 and in the coming years.”


Novartis is also following other Western firms in partnering up and acquiring Chinese companies to fill out its portfolio, including in cancer. Having previously raised doubts as to the advantages of Chinese acquisitions back in 2019, earlier this year Nasarimhan led Novartis to pay USD 650 million for an immuno-oncology drug from BeiGene Ltd. The drug – tislelizumab – is an anti-PD-1 antibody in a similar vein to Merck (MSD)’s blockbuster Keytruda and BMS’ Opdivo, both of which have sales figures in the billions.


In other news, Novartis recently sold the one-third share it held in Basel-based rival Roche, bringing in a whopping USD 20.7 billion

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