New Optimer Pharma boss reveals details of federal probe of former execs

Optimer CEO Hank McKinnell--Courtesy of Pfizer

In addition to engineering a potential sale of Optimer Pharmaceuticals ($OPTR), new Chairman and CEO Henry McKinnell shed more light on the alleged misdeeds involving stock grants at the highest levels of the company, Xconomy's Bruce Bigelow reported.

McKinnell, the former CEO of Pfizer ($PFE), took over the top job at Optimer from Pedro Lichtinger as the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigate corporate governance troubles--the same ones that pushed ex-Optimer financial chief John Prunty out the door in 2012.

With the management shakeup leading to his appointment, McKinnell told analysts on a call this week that the SEC and DOJ investigation stemmed from an internal company probe last April into an attempt to grant stock in a company affiliate called Optimer Biotechnology to ex-Chairman Michael Chang. "We engaged outside counsel to assist us in an internal review and determined that the grant may have violated certain applicable laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act," McKinnell said, as quoted by Bigelow. There was also the matter of a suspicious $300,000 payment to a researcher tied to another person of interest in the stock grant issue.

This week's news of McKinnell's arrival and plan to seek strategic alternatives, including a company sale, has clearly buoyed Optimer. According to Alan Carr from Needham & Company, McKinnell seems "fully engaged" in the rebooted commercial strategy and plans to emphasize work on the formulary status for the Optimer's antibiotic Dificid.

Cubist ($CBST) and Pfizer have surfaced in discussions about potential buyers of Optimer, whose fortunes rest heavily on beefing up sales of Dificid in the challenging antibiotics market. Optimer's 2012 revenue fell to $101.5 million from $145 million in 2011, according unaudited results from Bigelow's report. The company also fell to a loss of $37 million last year after reporting a $7.8 million profit in the previous year.

- see Xconomy's article

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