Targacept CEO exits after pipeline failures

J. Donald deBethizy bowed out as the chief executive of struggling drug developer Targacept ($TRGT), leaving after a string of recent defeats in clinical trials for the company. The company announced deBethizy's departure on Monday, saying that Chairman Mark Skaletsky and a trio of Targacept executives have been tapped to lead operations during the board's hunt for a new CEO.

DeBethizy has also abandoned his seat on the board of directors and his role as president of the company, the stock price of which has taken an 81% nosedive over the past year as once-promising R&D programs went down in flames. He is the latest of many Targacept employees to end their stints at the company, mostly involuntarily. In April the company said it would cut 65 jobs, axing nearly half of the company's work force, Bloomberg reported. The company has also said goodbye to its chief medical officer during the recent shakeup.

In March Targacept and collaborator AstraZeneca ($AZN) scuttled development of the antidepressant TC-5214, which fell short in the clinic. And recently Targacept's asthma drug candidate TC-6987 failed to achieve one of two key goals in a mid-stage study. The failure of TC-5214 was counted among the many R&D setbacks at AZ that preceded ex-CEO David Brennan's unceremonious departure from the London-based drug giant in April.

"While I have decided to step down for personal considerations, I leave Targacept well positioned with a talented management team and workforce, diverse Phase 2 first-in-class product candidates, well-developed science and a strong balance sheet," stated deBethizy, who will advise Skaletsky during the leadership transition.

- here's the release
- see Bloomberg's article
- and the Wall Street Journal's report