Inspiring Leaders, Outstanding Contributors

Novartis Alumni have inspiring stories and we applaud their achievements and personal growth as they continue to make an impact on business, society and human health.

WANDA SIMS, Director in Diversity and Inclusion, US

Being an agent for change and promoting the wellbeing of others has been the motivating force behind Wanda Sims’ remarkable career. Wanda joined Novartis for the first time 27 years ago as an Administrative Assistant in Marketing in New Jersey. She knew she wanted to make a difference to underserved communities but was initially unsure how to do that. With the benefit of multiple inhouse rotations and the support of “fantastic mentors”, many of whom remain good friends of Wanda today, Wanda found her way to Communications, which is where she says her career began to “take off”.

After 10 successful years as Associate Director of Corporate Philanthropy for Novartis, Wanda was ready to take on new challenges. This led her to a senior role in Diversity, Inclusion and Community Impact for the global media and technology giant Comcast/NBCUniversal. She spent three years there, a time where she experienced “great leadership and a lot of great learnings”.

The importance of medicine was made personal for Wanda when her father became seriously ill and sadly died in 2017. This and a subsequent brush with Covid-19 made Wanda realize that she was passionate about Pharma and wanted to use her strong sense of purpose to help patients and communities. So when an opportunity came up to return to Novartis as a Director in Diversity and Inclusion, she grabbed it.

Wanda says her work aligns with her purpose to help communities by tackling the root causes of systemic disparities in health outcomes. She feels her work has amazing impact and she is genuinely happy to be back working at Novartis. This is in no small part to the organization's commitment to invest $33.7 million over ten years to address these disparities in health and education. Wanda is pleased to work with the senior leadership team on groundbreaking initiatives such as the Beacon of Hope, which includes partnerships with 26 Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Medical Schools (HBCUs) to address health inequity and support the economic and educational positions of Black/African Americans and communities of color.

The US Diversity and Inclusion team has grown from three people to nine over the past three years – this is further proof of the commitment from leadership to making strides in this area. Wanda is also dedicated to moving the needle for associates with disabilities by ensuring everyone has a voice at the table, feels a sense of belonging, knows that they are valued and can bring their authentic selves to work.

And how will Wanda know when she has achieved this? It will be when she has essentially worked herself out of a job, because diversity and inclusion for everyone will be a natural part of the DNA of the Company. That may not be today or tomorrow, but with passionate and dedicated people like Wanda leading the way, it will most certainly be our future.

Welcome back Wanda!

Pascal Touchon

Thousands of terminally ill oncology patients were touched by the contribution of Novartis Alumni Pascal Touchon during his 4 year tenure at Novartis. Familiar to many Novartians, Pascal started as a member of the Oncology Executive Committee leading the oncology BD&L and Strategy team with many achievements including the acquisition of crizanlizumab (Adakveo) and that of AAA. Then Pascal led the cell and gene franchise which helped get Kymriah approved and launched in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

In 2019 Pascal joined US based biotech Atara Biotherapeutics as CEO & President. With a focus on allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy, Atara allows Pascal to remain focused on patients with serious diseases and on transforming lives. The business of ‘life’ can be hard and complex requiring resilience and passion which Novartis taught him. Welcome to the Novartis Alumni Pascal it’s great to connect with you again.

Isabel Afonso

Between 2002 and 2018, Isabel Afonso worked in 9 different roles across both Sandoz and Novartis. After leaving the group in 2018 Isabel became Chief Commercial Officer for US based company Performance Health, the largest global manufacturer and distributor of products to the rehabilitation and sports medicine markets. A life-long learner, Isabel has always looked for growth opportunities, and believes in investing in oneself. With a background in IT, Isabel holds qualifications from Harvard, Wharton and a General Management program from INSEAD.

Isabel was welcomed back into the Novartis family in April 2021 when she re-joined as Head of Portfolio and Strategy for Novartis Oncology China, she became acting head for Commercial Excellence and Digital and 7 months later in November 2021 was appointed General Manager, Novartis Oncology China. On June 1st, 2022 Isabel became Head, International Mature Brands, for the Innovative Medicines International (IMI) division. In this role she leads the integrated portfolio of matured assets across IMI to optimize ROI, while maximizing access to patients across international markets.

Isabel is a global executive with broad experience in leading and turning around businesses in large corporations, private equity, as well as a start-up environment. She has high energy, a curious mindset with demonstrated learning agility, and is known for inspiring and positively disrupting teams and businesses to deliver high growth and impact in multi-cultural environments.

Welcome back to the Novartis family Isabel!

 Richard Saynor

Between 2005 and 2010 Richard Saynor held several regional leadership roles with Sandoz. He left Sandoz in 2010 to take up a global leadership role at GSK heading their classic and established medicines division based in Singapore. Even though Richard left Sandoz, he took with him a deep love for the company and its purpose - to pioneer access for patients - and when after eight years the opportunity arose to return to the company as CEO, he jumped at the chance. On his first day addressing Sandoz as the new CEO, he told the assembled associates that "this is my dream job." Returning to Sandoz was a big step, and Richard brought with him a wealth of experience and a bold ambition: to make Sandoz both a market leader and thought leader, encouraging a “generic mindset” and increasing patients’ access to therapy as a vital part of the overall Novartis purpose of reimagining medicine. 

Under his leadership, 75% of all the medicines supplied by Novartis are Sandoz medicines and includes biosimilars and generic cancer therapies. Richard was behind critical moves to secure patient access during 2020 including an industry-leading pledge to keep prices stable for many essential medicines during the Coronavirus Pandemic and with the announcement of a joint investment to secure the long-term future of antibiotics manufacturing in Europe. This resulted from Sandoz's intensive efforts to broker an unprecedented cross-sector initiative that will maintain supplies of critical medicines to customers and patients worldwide.

Welcome back to the Novartis family Richard!

William Pasutti – Data Scientist, Novartis

From Research Associate to Data Scientist, and from San Francisco to North Carolina, William Pasutti has had a productive decade. He joined the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) in the Bay Area as a research associate in 2012. During his four years as part of the New Technologies team in antibiotic drug discovery, William learned how to methodically implement new technologies to maximize their impact. The experience also enabled him to develop his risk management and decision-making skills – skills he was able to utilize when he found himself back on the job market after a relocation to North Carolina following the birth of his first child.

After joining a research team at a Danish Agri Biotech firm, William was able to build on what he had learned at Novartis and spearhead a project introducing new technologies to process large amounts of data. That experience, in turn, led him a couple of years later to a start-up company in a leadership role with a focus on data processing and cloud computing, which developed his interest and expertise in data science.

William found the start-up experience exciting, but stressful and demanding. He missed the emphasis on work-life balance espoused by Novartis. So, a year later when the start-up earned series A funding, he was ready to hand over the baton to someone else and leave that world behind.

By that time, William had determined what he wanted from his career. After AveXis was acquired by Novartis and a pure data scientist role became available close to home, William found his interests happily aligned with opportunity and in 2020 he was quickly back within the fold.

Now working as part of the Technical Research and Development (TRD) team for Biologics and Cell & Gene Therapy (CGT) William is working to find ways to develop data pipelines from the laboratory to the cloud to share across functions and divisions to improve processes and enhance research efficiency. Data and Digital Transformation is an area of key growth for the organization and William says he’s excited by the opportunities all around him and being able to do what he loves every day; learning, problem solving and working with good people.

And with good people like William around, we’re glad he’s back too!

Image of Sarah Egan

Sarah Egan, a familiar face to many of you, worked across the HR organisation during her 10 years with Novartis.

Today, Sarah is the Chief HR Officer for Swiss Pharmaceutical company Acino, focused on servicing new and emerging markets with quality medicines. A life-long learner Sarah has always looked for stretch opportunities taking her outside of her comfort zone. During her time at Novartis she held roles at cluster, regional and global level, working across talent acquisition, talent management and HR (now People and Organization). Her proudest moments were during her time working across Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, focused on how Novartis could drive purpose and impact in smaller markets efficiently. Having such breadth and depth of experience gave Sarah the rhythm and rigor of HR and truly tested her leadership skills which has set her up well for her current role.

Sarah lives her purpose and recommends others to follow what you love, choosing passion and value because in Pharma our passion saves lives! Good to see you again Sarah and welcome to the Novartis Alumni Network!