Joe Jimenez, head of the drugs division, will replace Vasella, 57, as CEO on Feb. 1.
The move comes amid stiff competition in the drug market, where patent expirations are a mounting problem.
Many at Novartis believed that COO Joerg Reinhardt was to succeed Jimenez, but he is leaving the company, instead. Reinhardt's position has been eliminated.Meanwhile, Jon Symonds, plucked from Goldman Sachs last year, will serve as the new CFO. Symonds is replacing Raymund Breu on Feb. 1. Breu is retiring at the end of March. David Epstein, head of Novartis's oncology business, will replace Jimenez as head of the pharmaceuticals division. The market seems to welcome the changes. Novartis stock has risen 1.3% at the start of the trading session to $54.10.