Chutes & Ladders: Biogen completes ‘rigorous search’ for a new CEO

Michel Vounatsos is replacing George Scangos as Biogen’s new CEO.

Chutes and Ladders

Welcome to this week's Chutes and Ladders, our roundup of hirings, firings and retirings throughout the industry. Please send the good word—or the bad—from your shop to Eric Sagonowsky (email) or Angus Liu (email), and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Michel Vounatsos becomes Biogen’s pick for new CEO

Michel Vounatsos

Michel Vounatsos was named CEO.

He had only worked for Biogen for a few months, but it was during his tenure as chief commercial officer when Biogen started to recover from a sales slowdown of multiple sclerosis powerhouse Tecfidera. So, it seems clear to Biogen “through a rigorous search process that Michel [Vounatsos] is that leader who can guide Biogen in the next phase of its evolution,” said company Chairman Stelios Papadopoulos. Vounatsos assumed the commercial position at a dark time for Biogen, after having been with Merck & Co. for two decades. The company cut its 2015 sales projections along with 800 jobs after sales of Tecfidera fell short of expectations for several quarters. Vounatsos took on the CCO title from EVP Tony Kingsley in April, and MS numbers grew in that second quarter and the following third one, for which the drugmaker topped consensus with a $2.28 billion in sales. Then came the announcement in July that the captain George Scangos was leaving. Although analysts like Bernstein’s Ronny Gal are skeptical that Biogen’s performance has ever changed significantly, it is now up to Vounatsos to prove himself. FiercePharma | Read more on FiercePharma

Novartis vet Alessandro Riva jumps ship to head Gilead’s heme/onc team

Alessandro Riva

Alessandro Riva will lead the heme/onc unit.

It was a rocky 2016 for Gilead’s hematology and oncology unit. Even though the company denied a connection, it’s hard not to think that the departure of the company’s then-heme/onc head Philippe Bishop in March is related to several clinical setbacks in the area. Safety concerns were raised and six trials of Zydelig were suspended. After Bishop’s exit, lackluster phase 3 data of JAK inhibitor momelotinib, a potential rival to Incyte’s blockbuster Jakafi, is just not helping. Now the task to drag the unit out of the mire rests in the hands of Bishop’s replacement, 12-year Novartis oncology head Alessandro Riva. During his time at Novartis, the company completed a pivotal trial of CDK 4/6 drug LEE011 early, took a CAR-T program for an FDA approval, and secured regulatory nods for products including Farydak, Odomzo and Zykadia. With Riva gone, the oncology team at Novartis also needs to deal with problems of its own, including the recent closure of the cell and gene therapy unit and the departure of industry vet Hugh O’Dowd for Neon Therapeutics. FierceBiotech

Lilly leadership shake-up sees ex-Novartis vet Shaw in, Conterno up

Eli Lilly
Christi Shaw

Eli Lilly
Christi Shaw is tapped as Bio-Medicines head and Enrique Conterno adds president of Lilly USA to title.

Eli Lilly is still trying to pull itself together after Alzheimer’s candidate solanezumab failed. Now it’s counting on a new leadership team to help revive the company. Christi Shaw, who recently left as president of Novartis USA last year for family reasons, has been chosen to succeed Lilly’s newly appointed CEO David Ricks as head of its Bio-Medicines business. Shaw is actually no stranger to Lilly, as she previously worked for the company from 1989 to 2002 in sales and marketing. Enrique Conterno, SVP of Lilly and president of Lilly Diabetes, will add a new role as president of Lilly USA, replacing Alex Azar, who’s leaving the company for opportunities elsewhere. A few business restructurings were announced together with the exec changes. Conterno’s diabetes section, along with Bio-Medicines and Oncology, will add China to its current geographic reach. The company’s emerging markets business will merge with its European business to form Lilly International, which will be helmed by current emerging markets chief Alfonso ZuluetaFiercePharma

Surprise! Former Novartis exec David Epstein joins VC Flagship as partner

Flagship Pioneering
David Epstein

Flagship Pioneering
David Epstein is appointed executive partner.

When David Epstein surprised the industry last May by leaving his six-year post as Novartis Pharmaceuticals’ head, many thought his next stop would almost certainly be a CEO role at another biotech. But the former Novartis exec managed to surprise everyone again as he decided to move into the venture capital industry, joining some other biopharma industry vets like Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, formerly of Merck, and Jim Gilbert, formerly with Boston Scientific, as executive partner of Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences-focused VC. “[T]hese companies are looking for funding from the pharma industry, and having someone like me from that industry should help create a better understanding of what it’s looking for,” Epstein said about the transfer. His near focus will be on Rubius Therapeutics, a biotech startup founded by Flagship. With the most recent Fund V at $585 million, the VC has over the years collected $1.75 billion. FierceBiotech

Impax CEO Wilkinson out, hunt for a new leader begins

Fred Wilkinson

Fred Wilkinson leaves the company.

Compared to David Epstein’s new title, the departure of Impax CEO Fred Wilkinson was not entirely unexpected. After all, the company has been facing a series of problems after its cornerstone Hayward, California, plant was slapped by an FDA warning letter in 2011. Even though Wilkinson was “instrumental” in addressing that FDA notice and saw Impax’s Parkinson’s drug Rytary through with an FDA approval, a securities lawsuit, more manufacturing problems and severe job cuts were all reflected in the company’s stock as it hit its lowest since 2010. During Wilkinson's tenure, Impax bought 15 marketed generics for $586 million from Teva as the latter tried to secure its $40.5 billion buy of Allergan’s generics in early 2016. Wilkinson replaced co-founder and then-CEO Larry Hsu following a layoff in 2013. Now, he will be replaced by interim CEO J. Kevin Buchi as the company seeks a permanent replacement. FiercePharma

> Almirall named David Nieto new CFO and EVP of finance. Reuters brief

> Genome expert J. Craig Venter will relinquish his role as CEO of Human Longevity, and will be replaced by Cynthia Collins, who was most recently CEO and GM for GE Healthcare’s Cell Therapy and Purification and Analysis businesses. Release

> Cambrex, a manufacturer of small-molecule APIs, appointed Tom Vadaketh as EVP and CFO. Greg Sargen, current CFO, will transition to a newly created role, EVP of corporate development and strategy. Release

SynteractHCR’s Martine Dehlinger-Kremer was elected president of EUCROF. FierceCRO

Minerva Neurosciences tapped Dr. Michael Davidson, a central nervous system expert, as CMO. Release

> Innate Pharma appointed Laure-Hélène Mercier as CFO and tapped AstraZeneca’s SVP Dr. Mondher Mahjoubi as chairman. Release

> EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA in the U.S. and Canada, announced the appointment of Brian Barry as chief compliance officer. Release

> Rare disease medicines company Vtesse hired Alexion's Jason Meyenburg as chief commercial officer. Release

> Regeneron hired Dr. Jay Markowitz as SVP of portfolio management. Release

> Valeritas, a diabetes medical device company, promoted Matthew Nguyen to chief commercial officer. Release

> Voyager Therapeutics, a clinical-stage gene therapy company developing treatments for CNS diseases, appointed Jane Pritchett Henderson as SVP and CFO. Release

> Debra Gessner, formerly VP of regulatory and quality assurance at Tocagen, joined San Diego-based gene editing company Poseida Therapeutics as VP of regulatory affairs. Release

> Novozymes’ Albumedix, a specialist in recombinant human albumin, made Giles Campion its CMO. Release

> Paratek Pharmaceuticals, a biopharma company with expertise in novel tetracycline chemistry, promoted Dr. Evan Loh to the role of president and chief operating officer, Evan Tzanis to SVP of clinical development and clinical operations, and Jeanne Jew to SVP of business development. Release

> Antifungal company Amplyx Pharmaceuticals promoted its COO Ciara Kennedy to president and CEO. Release

> Axcella announced three key hires: Thomas Leggett as CFO, Iman Barilero as SVP and chief regulatory science, patient advocacy and pharmacovigilance officer, and Veena Warikoo as VP of product development. Release