Sarepta looks to quiet controversy with a boardroom shakeup

Sarepta CEO Chris Garabedian

After a behind-the-scenes squabble spilled out into the public, Sarepta ($SRPT) has replaced the chairman of its board and reaffirmed its support of CEO Chris Garabedian, looking to move on from an embarrassing distraction and focus on its lead drug program.

Chairman William Goolsbee has resigned from the top spot, Sarepta said, retaining a position on the board but ceding chairmanship to fellow member John Hodgman, the current CFO of InterMune ($ITMN), who will lead on an interim basis.

The move appears to be a victory for Garabedian, who, according to a Wall Street Journal report, had clashed with Goolsbee over just how much say the CEO should have in Sarepta's day-to-day business--particularly in the development of eteplirsen, an in-development treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) for which the company hopes to win an accelerated FDA approval.

According to the Journal, after repeated complaints to the board, Goolsbee moved to limit Garabedian's influence on the regulatory process, telling the company's leadership that he would no longer be present in meetings with the FDA. Sarepta declined to comment on that story but noted that it wasn't asking for any corrections.

Now, with Goolsbee stepping down, it would appear Garabedian is free to get back to business as usual. Among the privileges previously revoked was final say in matters of trial design, according to the Journal's sources, and Hodgman used the occasion of his promotion to say the CEO is back to full control.

"The company's primary goal is the submission of the eteplirsen New Drug Application by the end of this year," Hodgman said in statement. "We have full confidence in Chris Garabedian to continue to provide strategic and operational leadership, including driving Sarepta's clinical trial strategy as well as management of our interactions with the FDA."

The shift would seem to resolve at least the public portion of Sarepta's boardroom unrest, but the increased scrutiny does little to help a biotech already under the microscope.

Sarepta has been working to convince regulators and investors that, despite small sample sizes and murky endpoints, its exon-skipping therapy can effectively delay the progression of muscle-deteriorating DMD. Last month, the biotech unveiled three-year results it believes demonstrate eteplirsen's durable effect on the disease, but investors were less convinced, sending Sarepta's shares down more than 30% and feeding doubts about the company's ability to secure the early FDA nod it believes the drug deserves.

- read the statement