Chutes & Ladders—Shire CFO’s abrupt exit worries investors

CFO Jeff Poulton's plan to leave Shire at the end of the year stirred up uneasiness among investors.

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.

Shire CFO Poulton leaves for agriculture startup

Jeff Poulton

Jeff Poulton will step down as CFO.

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Perhaps timing is never good when a C-level executive abruptly leaves his company, but it is especially true in Jeff Poulton’s case. The announcement of his departure as CFO shocked everybody and sent Shire’s shares down. Poulton tried to convince investors that there’s “no smoking gun here,” but the event’s proximity in timing to former R&D chief Phil Vickers’ exit “naturally raises some concerns,” and it “serves to exacerbate already negative investor sentiment,” Jefferies analyst David Steinberg wrote in a note to clients. But Steinberg also said that he believes the move is just “motivated by an interest in a more entrepreneurial professional opportunity.” The news also came as Shire announced a consolidation plan to trim its U.S. operations down to just two main sites. FiercePharma

Novartis taps retail expert for top digital job

Novartis Logo
Bertrand Bodson

Bertrand Bodson was appointed chief digital officer.

After GlaxoSmithKline appointed former Walmart executive Karenann Terrell to the new position of chief digital and technology officer to help manage its digital efforts, Novartis followed suit, naming Bertrand Bodson, currently chief digital and marketing officer for retailer Sainsbury’s Argos, to the newly created role of chief digital officer. His job will start first thing next year and includes helping Novartis improve the way it uses data in drug discovery and development, engaging with patients and doctors, as well as automating business processes. Bodson started his career at Boston Consulting and has held positions at Amazon and EMI Music. He also co-founded video-sharing website Bragster, which was acquired in 2010 by Guinness World Records. FiercePharma

Former Zealand Pharma chief lands at tumultuous Akari

David Horn Solomon

Akari Therapeutics
David Horn Solomon, M.D., became CEO.

Akari’s former CEO, Gur Roshwalb, M.D., stepped down in late May after an internal committee found that he had broken company policy in approving a clinical data report with false information. Now taking his place and trying to salvage the biotech from that scandal is David Horn Solomon, M.D., who was CEO of Zealand Pharma from 2008 to 2015. The company originally planned to get Coversin, the drug under question and a potential rival to Alexion’s Soliris, into phase 3 by the end of this year, but its stock price has since dropped massively. Adding that it is facing two class-action lawsuits, that plan could be delayed. In a statement, Solomon said he believed Coversin has “potential in a wide range of other diseases where both the complement and leukotriene pathways are implicated.” FierceBiotech

> Former 23andMe President Andy Page will join Livongo Health, a digital health company focused on chronic disease, as its president and CFO. FierceMedTech

> Off from a $19.15 million funding round last November, Axial Biotherapeutics, which focuses on harnessing the gut microbiome to treat CNS disorders, poached Srinivas G. Rao, M.D., Ph.D., from struggling DepoMed as its new CMO and hired Ryan Barrett as VP of corporate development and IP, as well as Bridget Cole, Ph.D., as VP of medicinal chemistry. FierceBiotech

> Blade Therapeutics, a 2016 Fierce 15 winner, hired Bristol-Myers Squibb’s former fibrosis research head, Maria E. Fuentes, Ph.D., as its new EVP of research. FierceBiotech

> BenevolentAI poached Ian Churcher, Ph.D., from GSK, where he headed a discovery performance unit focused on progressing new approaches to drug discovery, and named him VP of drug discovery. FierceMedTech

> Uneek Mehra, previously a senior leader in finance at Novartis, joined Proteus Digital Health as CFO. Release