P. Roy Vagelos, one of the drug industry’s most influential and respected leaders, is stepping down as chair of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ board of directors after nearly three decades guiding the company’s emergence as a serially successful developer of new medicines.
Vagelos, who became Regeneron’s chair in 1995 after retiring as CEO of Merck & Co., will complete his current term through June 9, the biotechnology company said in Monday statement. Leonard Schleifer and George Yancopoulos, respectively Regeneron’s longtime CEO and chief scientific officer, will replace Vagelos as board co-chairs.
“I have had the privilege of serving as Chair for nearly three decades and watched with pride as Regeneron has been transformed from a small biotechnology company with big ideas into a successful research-based biopharmaceutical company that improves the lives of many patients,” said Vagelos.
Vagelos, 93, joined Regeneron’s board after 10 years as Merck’s CEO, a period in which he shepherded the launch of several medicines that became top-sellers for the company — such as the cholesterol treatment Zocor — and reshaped how it approached drug discovery. A biochemist and physician, Vagelos championed the development of the river blindness treatment ivermectin, later arranging for Merck to donate supplies of it for free to dozens of countries.
When Vagelos became chair in 1995, Regeneron was a small company still searching for its first medicine, and had recently reported the failure of an experimental treatment for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. An Associated Press story on Vagelos’ appointment described it as a “struggling biotech firm.”
In the three decades since, Regeneron has brought seven new drugs to market, including blockbuster products like the eczema and asthma treatment Dupixent and the macular degeneration treatment Eylea. It’s now worth just over $90 billion, more than GSK, Bayer and Biogen.
“P. Roy Vagelos has served as my role model since the day in 1975 when my father showed me an article in the Greek newspaper about his similar background and incredible achievements at Merck,” said Yancopoulos in the statement. “We will continue to strive to live up to the standard Roy has set of using science to change the practice of medicine and improve lives.”
With Vagelos’ retirement, Regeneron’s CEO and board chair positions will be held by the same person, although Schleifer will share chair duties with CSO Yancopoulos. Few large pharma and biotech companies now split the roles, a practice which is often criticized by activist investors and corporate governance groups.
Current director Christine Poon will serve as Regeneron’s lead independent director.