Exelixis mourns the deaths of two longtime executives
Exelixis is grieving the loss of two longtime executives this week, one of whom succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer and the other of whom had been on medical leave since June.
Gisela Schwab, Exelixis’ soft-spoken CMO of the last 15 years, passed away over the weekend, CEO Michael Morrissey announced on Monday. Although it’s unclear what caused her death, the oncologist took a medical leave of absence back on June 18. The news comes days after the passing of Jon Berndt, Exelixis’ senior VP of sales.
“Losing Gisela and Jon in the same week, both of whom were life sciences industry veterans, is a reminder of our fragility and that cancer knows no bounds,” Morrissey said in a statement.
Schwab joined Exelixis in 2006, following jobs at both Amgen and Abgenix. In addition to leading the development of cancer treatments Neulasta and Vectibix (the first entirely human antibody approved to treat colorectal cancer), Schwab was known for her “wonderful sense of humor,” and love for her husband and two golden retrievers, Morrissey said.
“She cared deeply about her colleagues and was generous with her time, knowledge, and leadership,” the CEO added.
— Brad Loncar (@bradloncar) September 6, 2021
Berndt, who died Wednesday of cancer, had been at Exelixis since 2015. He’s known for his work at Genentech and more recently Gilead, where he was senior director of oncology sales. There he led sales for Gilead’s blood cancer drug Zydelig — which raked in $31 million in the US last year — before jumping over to Exelixis to build out a sales team for the liver, kidney and thyroid cancer drug Cabometyx.
His “contagious energy” made him a natural leader and mentor, according to Morrissey. After long days spent selling cancer drugs, Berndt coached his son and daughter’s sports teams.
“Driven by the need to do the right thing in every moment and to take care of his people, he raised funds for employees in need and always offered a supportive hand,” he said.
“The team at Exelixis is close-knit, and our senior leadership team is particularly so,” Morrissey said, adding that the company has already begun its search for a new CMO.