After failures and partnership breaks, Endocyte CEO retires


After two decades at the helm, Ron Ellis is hanging up his executive boots today at Indiana biotech Endocyte ($ECYT), announcing his resignation “effective immediately.”

The company, which currently focuses on small molecule drug conjugates (SMDCs) and companion imaging agents, will see Mike Sherman become its new president and chief exec. Sherman was formerly of Guidant, a CV device manufacturer acquired by Boston Scientific, and also serves on the board at Mead Johnson Nutrition.

He’s also been the company’s chief financial officer since 2006 and more recently took on the role of chief operating officer. Ellis was one of the original founders of the biotech and became its CEO in 1996. The biotech said Ellis will stay on in a “consulting role.”

Endocyte, once flying high after securing a deal worth up to $1 billion with Merck ($MRK) a few years back, flew a little too close to the sun and was brought crashing back to earth in 2014 when its much-hyped drug vintafolide flopped a Phase III test in ovarian cancer.

The study was in fact stopped on the advice of a data and safety monitoring board, which said the biotech’s experimental drug failed to move the needle on progression-free survival. This came just a few months after the EMA gave the drug a conditional approval based on what appeared to be strong midstage results. Cue its shares tanking on the news, which dropped 60% on the day, and later saw Merck backing away from the deal.

The drug is still being tested in the midstage Target study for non-small cell lung cancer, although analysts do not believe it will disrupt the NSCLC market--especially with its former partner and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) currently vying for a first-line setting for their new PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors Keytruda and Opdivo.  

The company may be looking for something of a shake-up in its fortunes with a new leader. "Mike is the ideal candidate to lead Endocyte as we continue to shape the company and advance our pipeline,” said John Aplin, chairman of the Endocyte board of directors, in a statement. “His steadily expanded role as a trusted and strategic leader within the company over the last decade has established him as the natural successor to Ron. We are confident that his appointment will ensure a seamless management transition, and that he will add significant value in his new role.

"We would like to thank Ron, as our founding CEO, for his many contributions to building Endocyte and his tireless efforts in positioning the company for future success. We are fortunate that he will play an ongoing consulting role for the company."

The company is now focusing on other early assets, including its early-stage folic acid-tubulysin conjugate EC1456 in patients with advanced solid tumors, namely triple-negative breast cancer, advanced NSCLC and ovarian cancer treated at the MTD.

"I am honored by the confidence the board has placed in me, and I am excited to help unlock the potential of the SMDC platform," said Sherman in the statement. "With a clear path of development for our lead programs, EC1456 and EC1169, and the broad applicability of our technology, the next several years will be exciting for Endocyte. I look forward to leading the company, and bringing our medicines to patients."

The company was up 2% at 10 AM EDT. 

- here's the release

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