Bristol-Myers Squibb says that Lamberto Andreotti will succeed James Cornelius as chief executive of the New York-based drugmaker.

Mr Cornelius, 66, is stepping down as CEO on May 4 but will remain as chairman “at the request of the board”. Mr Andreotti, 59, is currently president and chief operating officer at B-MS and is responsible for the global pharmaceutical business.

He is not a surprising choice, given that a year ago B-MS set up a new executive committee, which acted as the company’s “senior strategy and decision-making body”. It consisted of Mr Cornelius, Mr Andreotti, R&D head Elliot Sigal, and chief financial officer Jean-Marc Huet,and the former’s successor was expected to come from the committee.

The new CEO’s main challenge will involve facing up to the loss of earnings B-MS will suffer when the blockbuster Plavix (clopidogrel) goes off-patent in the USA in 2012. Mr Andreotti, son of ex-Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti, said that while challenges lie ahead, “we are confident we can overcome them as we continue to successfully execute and deliver operationally, financially and strategically to maximise our future opportunities”.

He received the backing of Mr Cornelius who said the new boss “has demonstrated extraordinary leadership as president and COO and I believe he is the natural candidate to replace me”. He added that Mr Andreotti’s “deep knowledge and insight of the biopharma strategy make him the ideal leader as we transform into an industry benchmark”.

One drug that B-MS hopes will help fill the gap caused by the loss of Plavix revenues is belatacept, and the US Food and Drug Administration’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee has just voted 13 to five to recommend its approval for the prevention of acute rejection in de novo kidney transplant patients.

However panel members stated that additional studies are needed to evaluate the long-term safety and efficacy of the drug, which is a selective co-stimulation blocker.