Teva Pharmaceutical Industries chief executive Shlomo Yanai is to retire from the company in May and will be replaced by Jeremy Levin, who has more than 25 years of experience in the pharmaceuticals industry, most recently working at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The world's largest generics firm noted that Mr Yanai, 59, who has been CEO for five years, wished "to move on to a new phase in his career" and some observers have suggested he is planning a political career in Israel. The board therefore conducted "an extensive search process" and concluded that Dr Levin, "with his recognised strategic vision and deep knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry is the right person to lead Teva going forward".

Teva said the new man, the first non-Israeli to take up the reins at the helm of the company, is seen as "a leader in creating commercial and R&D alliances". Dr Levin, 58, joined B-MS in 2007 and had direct responsibility for strategy, alliances and transactions, and from 2003 to 2007, he was global head of business development and strategic alliances at Novartis. Earlier, he was CEO of Cadus Pharmaceuticals, a company he took public.

Speaking in fluent Hebrew at a press briefing in Tel Aviv, reported by the Globes newspaper, Dr Levin said he will work closely with Mr Yanai over the next five months, noting that "Teva is a unique company. It is Israeli and it will remain such".

Phillip Frost, chairman of the Petah Tikva-based drugmaker, said "Jeremy is a highly regarded manager, but we are sad that Shlomo is leaving us, after doing great work". Under the latter's leadership, Teva "has expanded and achieved growth in all financial parameters", he added, noting that if Mr Yanai "chooses public service, the Israeli people will benefit".

'Smart, timely acquisitions'

News of the handover has gone down well with analysts. Judson Clark at Edward Jones told PharmaTimes World News that South African-born Dr Levin "is well qualified to take the helm of Teva" and the broker has confidence "in his ability to manage the company through the upcoming wave of branded drugs going generic". Additionally, "we think his experience in business development points to the company's continued desire to pursue smart, timely acquisitions".

Mr Clark went on to say that Mr Yanai "has certainly been a tremendous asset for Teva and we believe the orderly, measured transition points to a well thought-out decision and not one made in reactive haste".