Having established Ionis $IONS as a wellspring of Big Pharma innovation, founder and chief Stanley Crooke is transitioning to executive chairman of the antisense company’s board come 2020, when current COO Brett Monia will take over the reins.
Under Crooke, who founded the company about 30 years ago, Ionis has honed a model in which it develops antisense products for a plethora of indications, de-risks them in the clinic and then secures a pharma partner to conduct pivotal trials and commercialize. In return, the company profits from a steady stream of upfront and milestone payments, as well as royalties.
This strategy has been largely successful apart from some setbacks, such as the rejection of volanesorsen and the delayed approval of Tegsedi. Overall, Ionis has been cash accretive for 6 out of the last 7 years, helped in part by strong sales of the expensive SMA therapy Spinraza, which originated at Ionis and is sold by Biogen $BIIB. At the end of the third quarter of 2018, Ionis had $2 billion in cash.
Going into 2019 — the California-based company is advancing three clinical programs into pivotal studies, including partnered drugs, as well as those being developed by its sister company Akcea $AKCA.
“In January 2020, when the transition will be effected, the company will be even stronger,” Crooke said on Thursday, noting that Monia, who was a founding member of the company, has contributed to all strategic decisions as an executive officer over the last 7 years.
Monia has been chief operating officer since the beginning of 2018, having served as senior vice president of translational medicine, franchise leader for programs in oncology and rare diseases, and head of drug discovery.
The drugmaker was originally called ISIS Pharmaceuticals – named after the Egyptian goddess Isis who was revered as a protector and healer. Following a period of deliberation however, the company decided to change its name in 2015, to avoid being confused with the Islamist militant group ISIS.
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