December 20, 2018 / 2:21 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Novartis oncology boss Barrett makes quick exit

(Adds details, background)

By Silke Koltrowitz and John Miller

ZURICH, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Novartis is getting its third oncology chief in less than a year after Liz Barrett said on Thursday she was leaving the Swiss drugmaker to become chief executive of a U.S. biotech firm only 11 months after taking up the role.

Barrett, a U.S. citizen who previously worked at Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson J&J.N before joining Novartis in February, will be replaced from January by Susanne Schaffert, a longtime Novartis executive.

Barrett, who could not be reached for comment, cited challenges in moving her family to Basel, Novartis's headquarters, as the reason for her departure. She did not name the biotechnology firm she was joining.

Novartis is trying to build up its oncology portfolio with new therapies including its costly Kymriah cell therapy, nuclear-based medicines and immuno-oncology.

"After much personal reflection, it became clear that my family would be unable to relocate," said Barrett, who had replaced Bruno Strigini as oncology chief less than a year ago.

A Novartis spokesman said he did not know where Barrett had taken a job.

Schaffert, a 20-year Novartis veteran, had for five years been Region Head, Novartis Oncology Europe, before this year taking over at its Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA) unit, purchased late last year for $3.9 billion.

AAA makes therapies that deploy trace amounts of radioactive compounds to treat cancer.

Schaffert will replace Barrett on the Novartis executive committee, where she will report to Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan.

"She has our full support and confidence as we continue to invest in both our internal pipeline as well as external assets to strengthen our presence," Narasimhan said in a statement. (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Alexander Smith)

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