Celgene president, COO Jackie Fouse to make shock departure

In an unexpected announcement made after hours last night, Big Biotech Celgene said one of its top execs, Jacqualyn Fouse, Ph.D., would be “retiring” in the summer and stepping down from her dual roles at the start of April, just a year after taking on the top-flight jobs. 

In a staged step-down, take-over program that will play out over the coming months, Fouse sheds her two roles, coincidentally on April Fool’s Day, while serving as a “strategic adviser” to management until June 30, when she officially retires.

Scott Smith, a nine-year veteran of Celgene and the guy who built and launched Celgene’s Inflammation & Immunology (I&I) franchise, becomes the next president and COO from April.

Filling his I&I role will be four-year Celgene vet (and former Merck exec) Terrie Curran, who just last year was made head of worldwide commercial markets for the I&I franchise and is leading the worldwide launch of its Otezla (apremilast) for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Fouse will also step down from the company’s board, a position she only took up last year.

This all comes around 12 months after Celgene named Mark Alles as its new CEO and former chief Bob Hugin moved upstairs.

Did Fouse leave, or was she pushed? She came on board as CFO for the company in 2010 and later became its hematology and oncology chief, before her president and COO roles that came amid the changes at the top last March, so her decision to retire so swiftly from a leading biopharma struck many as an odd choice.

But there is some more history here, as the both Fouse and Alles had been in an apparent horse race for Hugin’s job ever since they were elevated within the company back in mid-2014, a race Fouse eventually lost.

Bio Twitter was no end of buzz on her pending departure, including speculations from TheStreet’s Adam Feuerstein that she may be heading toward another biotech CEO role, with many retirement statements usually seeing that person heading up a new company a few months down the line.

No cards were shown in the official statement, with Alles saying simply: “I would like to thank Jackie for her incredible commitment and dedication to Celgene and the patients we seek to serve worldwide. On behalf of all Celgene employees, I wish Jackie the best in her retirement.”

Hugin added that “Celgene has greatly benefited from Jackie’s strategic leadership and wisdom.”

Analysts at Jefferies said her departure was "disappointing," adding: "Jackie has been extremely well-liked by the Street for her candid, straightforward style which augmented Celgene's credibility, in addition to her operational experience and prowess, and we imagine she will likely resurface down the line in a senior likely CEO position at another East Coast company.

"Still, with strong depth of management we expect a relatively smooth transition with Scott Smith, who has quickly gained prominence through the successful assembly of the I&I franchise, moving into Jackie's former role of president and COO effective 4/1/17. Additionally, Terrie Curran will assume Scott's former role leading the Global I&I Franchise. Based on our discussions with the company, we believe Terrie was key to the very successful Otezla launch."

Celgene dropped slightly after hours yesterday on the news, down 0.8%.