Novartis chief executive Daniel Vasella is delighted with the company’s 2006 performance saying that the figures are the result of “our commitment to innovation” and he stressed his confidence “of another year of record sales and earnings in 2007.”

He also went on to support the way the company is structured, saying that it helps the firm offer better medicines (pharmaceuticals), prevent illnesses (vaccines and diagnostics), provide less expensive quality drugs (Sandoz) and sell “simple and readily available self-treatment” (consumer health). Somewhat inevitably, he was asked about the present structure of Novartis and whether there would be any purchases or divestments in the near future.

The possibility of acquiring Merck KGaA’s generics operations was raised and met with a straight bat, with Dr Vasella saying that while he had read that Ranbaxy had stated its interest in public, no comment had come from Novartis and that was the way things would remain, leaving the assembled press in Basle no wiser as to his intentions. He did, however, seem to rule out any possibility of a mega-merger, saying that during the course of his day-to-day dealings, “I don’t sense anything in that direction.”

More interested in organic growth

The firm’s chief financial officer Raymond Breu agreed with the CEO and stated that Novartis is more interested in organic growth at the moment. Answering a question on whether Novartis would consider selling its 20% stake in Roche, Mr Breu noted that the firm had paid $5.2 billion to gain the interest a few years ago and its stake is now worth double that and no divestment is planned. It seems that the same goes for the Gerber baby food unit, according to Dr Vasella, who admitted that it is not a core business “but it’s a fantastic brand and it performs well.”

Dr Vasella, who seemed to be enjoying himself at the annual results meeting in Basle, has been CEO at Novartis since it was founded in 1996 (as well as chairman since 1999). When asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, by PharmaTimes World News as to whether he was contemplating a break from such a high-powered post, avoiding the burn-out that hits many analysts and enjoying the fruits of his labour, Dr Vasella said that he was still driven to help Novartis prosper even more. “If you are asking whether I’m tired, no I’m not,” he said, before adding: “I’m not working 20 hours a day.” By Kevin Grogan in Basle