NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The market is responding positively Tuesday to a series of management changes at Novartis ( NVS), including Daniel Vasella's step-down as CEO.

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.

Novartis on Tuesday reported that the group delivered sustained business expansion and profit improvement with all divisions, "contributing to a strong performance in 2009."

Novartis said that during this time, net sales rose 11% in local currencies to $44.3 billion, 7% in U.S. dollars, with Pharmaceuticals seeing industry-leading growth and Vaccines and Diagnostics seeling more than 100 million influenza A (H1N1) pandemic vaccine doses.

The company said that core EPS was up 8% to $4.50

Other pharmaceutical stocks are trading mixed. Roche ( RHHBY) has risen 0.5% to $43.80, while Merck ( MRK) is 0.4% lower at $38.60. GlaxoSmithKline ( GSK) is up 1.1% at $40.90.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York

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