UPDATED: Deborah Dunsire exits as Takeda cuts CEO role in Millennium shakeup

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Millennium CEO Deborah Dunsire is retiring and her business development chief Anna Protopapas will step in to head the oncology business of Takeda Pharmaceutical. The Japanese drugmaker revealed the management shakeup in a terse announcement today.

Takeda has decided to integrate Millennium's oncology R&D into the parent company's global research organization, eliminating Dunsire's CEO position at Millennium in the process, spokeswoman Manisha Pai told FierceBiotech. Layoffs could result from the reorganization of oncology R&D at the company, which is seeking ways to cut costs. Takeda plans to call the Boston-area unit "Takeda Cambridge US," keeping the Millennium moniker for commercial purposes but not for R&D.

Dunsire, who helped engineer the growth of the myeloma drug Velcade into a blockbuster, has been a symbol of Takeda's transformation into a global pharma company. Raised in Africa and a physician by training, she became the first female board member of Takeda after the company bought Cambridge, MA-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals in 2008 for $8.9 billion. And her rise in the company has made her a role model for female employees in the company.

"Deborah and Yasuchika Hasegawa, who is president and CEO of Takeda, talked about different career opportunities at Takeda because her current role no longer existed," Pai said. "But when it came down to it, Deborah's passion was running Millennium, running a fully integrated oncology organization… So she decided to leave the company."

Dunsire, who joined Millennium in 2005 after leading Novartis' ($NVS) U.S. oncology unit, is slated to retire from Takeda's board after the company's annual shareholder and board meetings on June 26, the company said. She plans to pursue other career options.

Protopapas, who called Dunsire a "friend" and "mentor," has been another rising star at Takeda. She joined the company through the Millennium acquisition and became head of global business development for the parent company in 2010, after which she took a lead role in Takeda's landmark acquisition of Switzerland-based pharma group Nycomed in 2011 for $13.6 billion. She is expected to keep her business-development job and take the helm of Millennium as president.

Millennium has operated with a level of autonomy as the oncology unit of Takeda for the past 5 years, and the group's pipeline features late-stage programs for an oral successor to Velcade known as MLN9708 and the prostate-cancer contender code-named TAK-700.

Takeda has invested heavily in oncology as one of several pillars of its pharma business. It needs new products and sales growth after its top selling diabetes drug Actos lost patent exclusivity last year. As MarketWatch reported, Takeda's shares tanked and fell by 9% on Thursday after the company forecasted a 28% decline in profit for 2013.

News of Dunsire's resignation came as a surprise to at least some Millennium workers today, and Dunsire and Protopapas met with employees to discuss the changes, Protopapas said in an interview. She and Dunsire will join Takeda CEO Hasegawa and Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Tachi Yamada in another meeting with employees on Friday.

Karen Ferrante, Millennium's chief medical officer, will lead the oncology research group in Cambridge and report to Yamada, the former scientific chief for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). And Christophe Bianchi, Millennium's commercial head, will report to Protopapas.

- here's Takeda's Millennium announcement
- see Xconomy's report

Special Report: Deborah Dunsire – Top 10 Women in Biotech

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