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At the start of his second year on the job, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is about to face his biggest test yet: the launch of a breakthrough gene therapy on which he spent $8.7 billion of his company’s cash last April.

Narasimhan, at 42 the youngest chief executive of a major pharmaceutical firm, spent his first year in command (he took over last February) talking about big goals — he wants to upgrade the company’s culture, turning the still-staid Swiss company into something more entrepreneurial — and making deals.


He’s finished the process of stripping away parts of Novartis that are not focused on its core business of inventing and selling prescription drugs. Last year, the company sold some dermatology assets made by its generic business, Sandoz, to Indian generic maker Aurobindo for $900 million. In April, Novartis spun off Alcon, the eye care giant now worth $30 billion, which it had bought a decade ago to insulate it against the volatility of prescription drugs.

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