Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio will retire Nov. 1 after eight years piloting the pharmaceutical company to become a leading maker of cancer drugs.
Caforio will hand the reins to current commercial head Christopher Boerner, who will temporarily serve as chief operating officer, the company said Wednesday.
After the transition is complete, Caforio will continue as chair of Bristol Myers’ board of directors, although it is not typical for U.S-based drugmakers to permanently split the CEO and board chair roles. The company said his tenure as chair will be “for a transition period to be determined by the board.”
Taking Boerner’s place as chief commercial officer will be Adam Lenkowsky, currently Bristol Myers’ head of major markets. That transition is effective immediately with Boerner’s elevation to COO.
A medical doctor, Caforio assumed the CEO’s role from Lamberto Andreotti in 2015 after having worked in numerous roles across the company, including as chief commercial officer and COO.
His tenure as Bristol Myers chief was defined by the company’s development of the blood thinner Eliquis and the cancer immunotherapy Opdivo into blockbuster medicines, as well as a string of big-ticket acquisitions, most notably a $74 billion acquisition of Celgene. That deal brought in the fast-selling blood cancer treatment Revlimid, making Bristol Myers one of the largest oncology companies, as well as the cancer cell therapies Abecma and Breyanzi, which now figure more prominently in its plans.
Yet Bristol Myers also misstepped under Caforio, choosing a clinical development plan for Opdivo that backfired and allowed rival Merck & Co. to take a leading position in the market for cancer immunotherapies. A big bet on an experimental immunotherapy developed by biotechnology company Nektar Therapeutics also didn’t pan out.
The main challenge facing Boerner will be building up successors to those older products. The U.S. patents protecting in Eliquis are set to expire in 2026, and in 2028 for Opdivo. Revlimid is already facing limited generic competition. Combined, those three drugs accounted for $30 billion, or 65%, of Bristol Myers’ $46 billion in sales last year — making for one of the largest “patent cliffs” in the industry.
But Bristol Myers has five drugs, including new psoriasis drug Sotyktu and heart drug Camzyos, it estimates can each earn $4 billion or more by 2030. For another two, it forecasts $3 billion or more.
Before joining Bristol Myers in 2015, Boerner served in marketing roles at Roche’s Genentech division as well as leadership roles at Seattle Genetics.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.