Former Moorestown resident and soon-to-be CEO Vasant Narasimhan ‘excited about the possibilities ahead’
In 2018, Vasant Narasimhan will become the Chief Executive Officer of Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis AG.
In 1994, Vasant Narasimhan graduated from Moorestown High School. In 2018, Narasimhan graduates to chief executive officer of Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis AG. His passion for helping people took the former Moorestown resident from New Jersey to Basel, Switzerland, where he currently resides, poised to take over as the head of one of Europe’s largest drugmakers on Feb. 1.
Novartis AG is a multinational pharmaceutical company and is consistently ranked as one the world’s second largest pharmaceutical companies raking in billions of dollars each year. The company boasts more than 100,000 employees and has earned recognition recently for their innovative cancer treatment reconfiguring the body’s own immune cells to fight cancer.
Narasimhan’s family moved from Pittsburgh to Moorestown when he was 11. Narasimhan has fond memories of growing up in Moorestown and attending Moorestown High School where he was captain of the basketball and tennis teams.
“I only have good memories,” Narasimhan said of his time in Moorestown. “I still go back there on the holidays.”
His mother, Gita Narasimhan, who still lives in Moorestown with her husband Sim, said their son was highly self-motivated.
“I call him a scholar-athlete,” Gita Narasimhan. “He won the national merit scholarship and was captain of the basketball team, so he was very well-rounded.”
Sim Narasimhan said throughout his school years, his son displayed potential.
“Moorestown High School used to tell us he was so talented,” Sim Narasimhan said. “We didn’t know what that meant. I see that he’s got that talent working with his team.”
Upon graduating from MHS, Narasimhan obtained a bachelor’s of science degree in biology from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He said working in pharmaceuticals wasn’t the direction he had in mind at the time.
“Originally, I wanted to be an infectious disease physician to work on public health projects in parts of developing worlds,” Narasimhan said.
He said his passion for public health stemmed in large part from his family trips to India.
“Seeing how difficult life can be in India — it made me have a strong sense of service,” Narasimhan said.
Narasimhan had been working in public health when he decided he wanted to learn more about how to get innovation to people around the world. For a time, he worked at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. He said the position taught him about how a business can discover new therapies and bring those therapies to people across the globe.
In 2005, Narasimhan ended up going into pharmaceuticals in continued pursuit of innovation.
He joined Novartis AG where he rose through the ranks to become global head of drug development and chief medical officer.
Five years ago, Narasimhan, his wife and their two sons made the move to Switzerland. He said Switzerland’s central location in Europe has enabled the family to adventure throughout Europe and the entirety of the family has been learning German.
He said one of his proudest accomplishments to date was developing a vaccine to protect children from a variety of types of meningitis.
In early September, current CEO of Novartis Joseph Jimenez announced his retirement and his intention to leave the company in February 2018. Novartis’ board selected 41-year-old Narasimhan for the position following the news.
“I was humbled, honored — I think a little shocked,” Narasimhan said of the news. “I’m very excited about the possibilities — about what I could now do to improve health care for groups of people around the world.”
Narasimhan said he’s excited by the prospect of what lies ahead. He said there’s a great deal of innovative research taking place in scientific laboratories and his goal is to bring those innovations forward quickly to ensure healthcare systems are getting them.
For Narasimhan, the most important part of his work has always been and will continue to be seeing the impact the drugs Novartis creates has an patients and communities.
“I always try to spend time with patients receiving the medicine because that’s ultimately why we’re doing this work,” Narasimhan said.