After months of searching, Immunomedics lines up Celgene vet Pehl as its new CEO

Pehl and fellow Celgene exec Delaney are "high-caliber hires", says analyst

Immunomedics has drawn a firm line under the disruption among its top management in recent months by hiring biotech veteran Michael Pehl—formerly of Celgene—as its CEO.

Pehl was formerly president of Celgene’s hematology and oncology division and will be joined at Immunomedics by former colleague Brendan Delaney, who was VP commercial at the same unit at Celgene and will take on the newly created chief commercial officer role at his new employer.

The appointments have been welcomed by Jefferies analyst Matthew Andrews, who said in a research note they are “high-caliber hires” that have “impressive backgrounds from their time at Celgene.” Celgene launched Revlimid, Pomalyst and Abraxane under Pehl’s watch, while Delaney “managed a 400+ U.S. sales/marketing/strategic alliance staff and has launched nine drugs in his career.”

Pehl takes over the new role on December 7 and that will allow chief financial officer Michael Garone—who has been standing in as interim CEO—to get back to his primary role, says (PDF) the biotech. Garone has been holding the fort at Immunomedics since the company’s board axed former president and CEO Cynthia Sullivan in the wake of an unpopular decision, now reversed, to license lead candidate IMMU-132 to Seattle Genetics.

The biotech’s chairman Behzad Aghazadeh said the announcement “represents the culmination of an intensely thorough–but ultimately extremely rewarding–search process for the right leader to guide the next phase in the transformation of Immunomedics.”

“We feel our patience in this instance was absolutely rewarded as we believe Michael is an ideal fit for our organization,” he said on a conference call, describing the new CEO as “strategic thinker” and “confident decision-maker.”

Pehl retired from Celgene in August and will take the helm of Immunomedics at a pivotal point in its 35-year history, with the biotech in the critical latter stages of preparing to seek FDA approval for IMMU-132 (sacituzumab govitecan) as a third-line treatment for late-stage, metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

On the company's third-quarter analyst call, Aghazadeh reiterated its plan to file for approval of IMMU-132 in the first quarter of 2018, saying that the company had a “productive” call with the FDA and has started recruiting patients into the phase 3 ASCENT trial that needs to be underway for FDA to consider accelerated approval of the drug based on phase 2 data.

The progress with the program is “setting the stage for a second quarter/mid-2018 FDA approval for IMMU-132,” said Andrews, and the company has also reported making progress in its search for a partner for the drug overseas.

“Potential partners have expressed interest in studying '132 in combination with other drugs/mAbs in TNBC and other tumor types,” he added.