As it shops for new deals, Akcea hires former GSK exec as COO
In an unexpected twist in September, a trifecta of senior executives running Akcea — CEO Paula Soteropoulos, president Sarah Boyce and COO Jeffrey Goldberg — left the Boston drugmaker in one fell swoop.
The board of the Ionis majority-owned spinoff swooped in to place Damien McDevitt — the chief business officer of the California company — in the interim chief spot. He will now be joined by Alex Howarth who will take on the role of COO.
When the unceremonious departures were announced earlier this year, no explanation was initially provided by the company. Eventually, it emerged that the exits were unrelated to the launches of Akcea’s two drugs, Tegsedi and Waylivra, but were in fact driven by the need to go shopping for deals to expand its arsenal of drugs-in-development as the next big trial readouts are only expected by 2021.
Howarth, who will take charge of corporate strategy, business development, management of stakeholder alliances, legal and compliance, has a resumé that suits the evolving strategic goals of Akcea.
He spent over ten years at GSK in a variety of roles, including leading GSK Venture Partnerships. He has also previously worked at the accounting firm KPMG, and is qualified as a chartered accountant and holds an honors degree in biochemistry.
Under the revamped management team, which also includes the promotion of Akcea’s chief commercial officer Kyle Jenne, Akcea and Ionis clinched a collaboration with pharma giant Pfizer. In October, Akcea and Ionis signed the deal, which gave them $250 million upfront, and up to $1.3 billion in milestone payments, in addition to double-digit royalties for their cardiometabolic drug, AKCEA-ANGPTL3-LRx.
“Akcea remains broadly focused on rare disease medicines and other therapies which complement their infrastructure/experience. What’s clear, in our view, is that Akcea‘s new management team is motivated to expand the pipeline from here,” Stifel’s Paul Matteis wrote in a note last month.
The company — focused on rare diseases — is developing a range of antisense drugs, which are engineered to interrupt the production of disease-causing proteins by targeting the specific corresponding messenger RNA (mRNA) that encodes that protein, thereby manipulating protein production.