Ex-Bax­al­ta CEO Lud­wig Hantson gets the top job at a trou­bled Alex­ion


So Lud­wig Hantson will get his chance to run a biotech com­pa­ny af­ter all.

A lit­tle less than nine months af­ter Shire closed on its deal to buy Bax­al­ta, a new spin­out out of Bax­ter, for $32 bil­lion, the for­mer CEO at Bax­al­ta now has the top job at Alex­ion.

Hantson had run Bax­ter Bio­Science be­fore they gave him the reins at Bax­al­ta, giv­ing him a run at op­er­at­ing a $6 bil­lion group re­spon­si­ble for launch­ing 13 prod­ucts. Shire, though, leaped on the buy­out short­ly af­ter it was spun out. Now he’ll be step­ping in­to a va­can­cy cre­at­ed by a mar­ket­ing scan­dal that took down both the CEO and the CFO, who were en­tan­gled in a scheme to push ear­ly sales of Soliris in or­der to meet Wall Street’s rev­enue ex­pec­ta­tions.

Alex­ion $ALXN has a mar­ket cap of close to $27 bil­lion.

Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges ques­tioned why a biotech like Alex­ion would want a Big Phar­ma ex­ec like Hantson at the helm.

(C)om­pared to oth­er CEO pos­si­bil­i­ties, in­vestors are like­ly to pre­sume a will­ing­ness by Hantson to sell Alex­ion, should the right of­fer be made, rather than any hubris­tic com­mit­ment to in­de­pen­dence at all costs. Neg­a­tive re­ac­tions to the ap­point­ment could be the lack of biotech ex­pe­ri­ence for Hantson and the re­in­force­ment of Alex­ion’s “big phar­ma” makeover. The ap­point­ment al­so means that oth­er can­di­dates with more di­rect­ly rel­e­vant rare dis­ease and biotech ex­pe­ri­ence have been passed over by Alex­ion’s board of di­rec­tors. Last­ly, some in­vestors will be­lieve that this an­nounce­ment takes the prospects for ac­qui­si­tion of Alex­ion off the ta­ble, for at least the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, al­though we doubt that this an­nounce­ment re­al­ly im­plies such a change in re­cep­tiv­i­ty (for the right of­fer).

Hantson will have his work cut out for him. Just days ago the com­pa­ny — run on an in­ter­im ba­sis by board mem­ber David Bren­nan, who was axed by the board at As­traZeneca af­ter sad­dling the com­pa­ny with the worst pipeline in Big Phar­ma — trig­gered a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion, cut­ting 7% of the com­pa­ny’s work­force. That’s more than 200 em­ploy­ees.

An­a­lysts have been com­plain­ing for months now that Alex­ion has be­come a chron­ic un­der­per­former, with the com­plaints grow­ing af­ter Soliris failed a piv­otal tri­al re­cent­ly. None of that was helped af­ter they de­cid­ed to scrap a drug Alex­ion got out of the $8.4 bil­lion Synage­va buy­out, SBC-103, which made the whole deal sus­pect. An ap­proved drug out of Synage­va, Kanu­ma, has been a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment on the sales side.

Hantson al­so now faces sev­er­al ri­vals to Soliris in the clin­ic now, which hope to top­ple the com­pa­ny’s big fran­chise drug.

Hantson, who’s aware of all of that, was look­ing at a glass more than halfway full this morn­ing, hint­ing at some pos­si­ble deals to come.

Says Hantson:

Alex­ion is on-track to achiev­ing its near-term pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing: grow­ing its com­ple­ment and meta­bol­ic fran­chis­es; ob­tain­ing ap­proval of Soliris in re­frac­to­ry gMG; and ad­vanc­ing its pipeline pro­grams in­clud­ing ALXN1210 and eculizum­ab in re­laps­ing NMOSD. I al­so look for­ward to build­ing our fu­ture R&D and com­mer­cial growth strate­gies which will be guid­ed by the Com­pa­ny’s long-stand­ing goal of trans­form­ing lives.

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As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

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