Aerie raids Alcon again, returning this time with an R&D VP

Eric Carlson is part of a clutch of people to move from Alcon to Aerie this year.

Aerie Pharmaceuticals has yet again looked to Novartis’ struggling eye care unit for a new hire. Eric Carlson, Ph.D., has become the latest in a string of former Alcon employees to land at the smaller eye disease specialist.

Carlson is joining Aerie as its VP of R&D, positioning him to support the advance of the biotech’s pipeline of drugs against glaucoma, ocular hypertension and other eye diseases. Before taking the position, Carlson performed similar tasks as ophthalmology senior global program head at Alcon. Carlson arrives at Aerie at a time when it is riding high on positive phase 3 glaucoma data.

With that drug—Roclatan—impressing in phase 3 and a related asset—Rhopressa—back in front of the FDA, Aerie is aiming to line up follow-on opportunities by expanding use of these assets into additional indications and advancing new programs. Carlson will contribute to these activities.    
The new VP of R&D will see plenty of familiar faces at Aerie, which has hoovered up talent from Alcon this year. Huan Sheng, M.D., Ph.D., left Alcon to work as director of clinical research and drug safety at Aerie in February. Aerie followed up that appointment by poaching Dale Seibt from Alcon to serve as its VP of market access. Rick Halprin strengthened the Alcon-Aerie connection in July when he ended a 25-year career at the former for the role of director of professional affairs.

In and around those appointments, Aerie has also hired staff one-step removed from Alcon. Gary Menichini arrived at Aerie as VP of sales having previously worked at Genoptix and, prior to that, at Alcon. Genoptix and Alcon are both part of Novartis. Similarly, Judith Robertson left Johnson & Johnson to work at Aerie but was employed by Alcon as recently as 2013.

The string of hires means Aerie is staffed by people who cut their teeth at one of the dominant forces in the eye care industry, albeit one that has struggled in recent years. Each of the people to leave Alcon for Aerie has done so against a backdrop of upheaval at the Novartis unit, which has gone through a reorganization an analyst called “brutal” when it was unveiled last year.

Novartis kicked off the reorganization and put ex-Hospira CEO Mike Ball in charge of it to try to turnaround a unit that has failed to live up to expectations. The Swiss Big Pharma took full control of the unit in a $50 billion deal in 2010, but sales slumped prior to the initiation of the reshuffle. 

The financials improved somewhat in the most recent quarterly financial results but Novartis is still considering offloading the unit.