James Mullen (photo), the 51-year-old CEO of Biogen Idec, is calling it quits after leading the biotech for the seven turbulent years since the company's big merger in 2003. Over that time Mullen has helped shepherd the approval and marketing of Tysabri--a drug that offered new hope to patients with multiple sclerosis but raised troubling questions about its link to a rare and often lethal brain infection--while fending off relentless attacks by Carl Icahn. More recently, Mullen was forced to walk away from his $420 million bid to buy Facet Biotech, a cash-rich development partner which never saw enough money on the table to make an M&A deal worthwhile.
As the chief of one of the country's largest biotech players, Mullen had a high profile in the industry. But he was forced to spend a considerable amount of time fending off Icahn, whose campaign to acquire control of the company triggered two proxy fights and a series of bitter accusations about the management of the company. Icahn was able to win two board seats last year. And with Mullen also stepping down from the board in June, Icahn may well try to mount a new summer offensive.
Icahn wasn't the only critic of Mullen. HealthCor Management, a hedge fund, had recently asked the board to review Mullen's compensation. And on hearing that Mullen is retiring this summer, a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that it is glad that Biogen is "seeking a new direction for leadership of the company."
Investors agreed, sending shares up one percent on the news of Mullen's scheduled departure. "We're happy," Scott Harrison, an analyst at Argent Capital, told Reuters. "There hasn't been a lot of confidence in Mullen's leadership, and this reminds folks that the moves made last year by Icahn are having some impact."
"I have had the opportunity to work with many talented and dedicated colleagues over the past 21 years, and I am proud of all that we have accomplished together,'' Mullen said in a statement. "With our strong product portfolio, pipeline, global presence, and financial profile, the company is well positioned to continue to enhance the lives of patients and deliver value to its investors." Mullen first went to work for Biogen back in 1989. The company says that it will launch a search for a new leader of the $4 billion company.