Daniel O’Connor has resigned as CEO of Advaxis. The cancer immunotherapy biotech has put CBO Tony Lombardo in charge while it searches for a permanent successor to O’Connor.
Advaxis provided scant detail about why O’Connor has left the position and board of directors with immediate effect. Both parties provided the usual niceties for a statement disclosing the news. But the sudden, surprising nature of the departure leaves questions unanswered.
O’Connor joined Advaxis as SVP in January 2013. By August, he was CEO. Back then, Advaxis was struggling after data on its cancer vaccine failed to wow. Advaxis suffered further setbacks under O’Connor’s stewardship, including a clinical hold, but overall the situation has improved. O’Connor struck a deal with Amgen, moved an asset into phase 3, steadied Advaxis’ once-perilous financial position and oversaw a 100% increase in its stock.
Responsibility for building on that progress will now fall on Lombardo, at least in the near term. Lombardo, like O’Connor before him, has risen to the CEO post shortly after joining the company. Advaxis originally hired Lombardo as CBO in April.
Lombardo’s résumé includes a stint as CEO of Nasdaq-listed imaging company E-Z-EM that culminated in a $240 million takeover by Bracco Diagnostic. That experience could put Lombardo in the running for the permanent CEO position. But, for now, he is only keeping the seat warm during an important period for Advaxis.
The new leader’s to-do list includes a filing for European approval of axalimogene filolisbac in metastatic cervical cancer. Advaxis plans to submit the application by the end of the year. The asset, which is in phase 3, also has fast-track designation from the FDA.
Shares in Advaxis fell 8% in after-hours trading following the news.