- Drugmakers often focus on restocking their pipelines, but the past week has seen several refilling their C-suites — the latest development in a summer already notable for biopharma executive departures.
- Last Thursday, Vertex Pharmaceuticals said Bristol-Myers Squibb's former Head of Intercontinental Region, Ludovic Fenaux, joined the biotech as senior vice president of international commercial operations. The following Tuesday, Bristol-Myers made its own announcement: Christopher Boerner, head of the company's U.S. commercial business, got bumped up to chief commercial officer, succeeding Murdo Gordon.
- Also on Tuesday, Gilead Sciences announced Amgen veteran Laura Hamill would be taking on the role of executive vice president of worldwide commercial operations.
It's been a turbulent year at the top for big pharma and biotech. Effective Feb. 1, Vas Narasimhan took over as CEO of Novartis, one of the highest profile jobs in the industry but also one that has brought considerable headaches. More recently, Gilead disclosed its own CEO John Milligan and Chairman John Martin will step down at the end of the year.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The C-suite churn was also on display this year at:
- Pfizer, where Global Head of Oncology Liz Barrett bounced over to Novartis
- Roche's Genentech, where Global Head of Oncology Business Development Kevin Sin departed for GlaxoSmithKline
- Celgene, where Chief Operating Officer Scott Smith and Executive Vice President of Business Development George Golumbeski left in April
- Amgen, where Executive Vice President of R&D Sean Harper decided to retire in July
Amgen had another spot open, executive vice president of global commercial operations, but filled it with Bristol-Myers' Gordon, creating a vacancy that Boerner now occupies. That push and pull, poaching and getting poached is common throughout biopharma. Yet the three hires disclosed in the last week suggest securing commercialization talent is a priority.
At Gilead, revenue has taken a hit as the company's once mega-blockbuster hepatitis C business continues to deteriorate. Product sales in the second quarter came in at $5.54 billion, down 20% from the same period a year prior. As such, the big biotech is relying on its strong presence on the HIV market and potentially lucrative cell therapy assets to help return to growth.
Challenges are different over at New York-based Bristol-Myers, which is battling for immuno-oncology market dominance with rival pharma Merck & Co. Though sales of Bristol-Myers' still total in the billions, Merck's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) recently outpaced them for the first time, underscoring the marketing advantage Merck enjoyed by getting an early approval in first-line non-small cell lung cancer.
Vertex, meanwhile, is sitting pretty as the dominant player in the cystic fibrosis drug market. Its drugs Kalydeco (ivacaftor), Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor) and Symdeko (tezacaftor/ivacaftor) raked in $750 million in the second quarter, up nearly 50% year over year.
The price tags on those treatments have caused concern, however, particularly with U.K. regulators. Vertex has clashed with National Health Services to get coverage for its CF drugs, going so far as to request Prime Minister Theresa May step in to remedy the situation. In a letter to May, Vertex threatened that "any future biotech investment in the U.K. is at significant risk."
That tension underscores why Fenaux, and his extensive background with international pharmaceutical operations, is a strategic addition for Vertex's team. He "brings the leadership skills and functional and geographic experience our growing international organization needs," company Chief Financial Officer Stuart Arbuckle said in a statement.