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ZURICH, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Novartis Chief Executive Joseph Jimenez will retire in 2018, with chief drug developer Vasant Narasimhan taking over as CEO starting in February, the Swiss drugmaker said on Monday.
Jimenez, 58, is stepping down following a decade at Novartis after having successfully secured U.S. approval for a new gene therapy for leukemia last week but before Novartis returned to sales growth, which the company has forecast will resume in 2018.
"After 10 wonderful years in Switzerland, my family is ready to return to Silicon Valley and the United States," said Jimenez, a Stanford University graduate.
A Novartis employee since 2005, Narasimhan has increased his public presence at Novartis since becoming global head of drug development and chief medical officer in 2016.
Just 41, he is among a new generation of youthful leaders at Novartis that include head researcher Jay Bradner at the Novartis Institutes For Biomedical Research who have sought to improve the process in which drugs move from research to actually becoming a commercial product.
Novartis has been criticised for missing the first wave of promising cancer immunotherapy drugs and billions in sales.
"Vas is deeply anchored in medical science, has significant experience in managing the interfaces between research and development and commercial units and has strong business acumen with a track record of outstanding achievements," Chairman Joerg Reinhardt said.
Last week, Novartis won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the $475,000-per-patient Kymriah for children and young patients with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the first so-called CAR-T therapy to win the regulator's blessing.
Jimenez arrived in 2007 to lead Novartis's consumer health division and rose to CEO in 2010 under former Chairman Daniel Vasella, who left in 2013.
Under Jimenez's tenure, Novartis has largely dismantled Vasella's efforts to build a European healthcare giant by unloading animal care businesses, vaccines and over-the-counter drugs and instead focusing on its prescription drugs business, including an emphasis on cancer medicines and its Sandoz generics unit.
The loss of patent protection for Novartis's top-selling Gleevec blood cancer drug has led to stagnating sales as generic competition escalated.
Jimenez has promised a return to growth in 2018, as new drugs including psoriasis medicine Cosentyx absorb the hit.
Jimenez has also been plagued by problems at Novartis's Alcon eye care unit, where slumping sales of surgical equipment were blamed on poor customer service and a failure to innovate.
He swapped out nearly all of the division's leadership, and last quarter lifted the forecast for the division's sales to rise by a low single-digit percentage rate as Novartis said measures including increased marketing spending are helping turn the division around.
Alcon is currently being reviewed for a possible sale, and Jimenez has said its improving results open the door for a possible spin-off IPO. (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)