Help want­ed: New CEO to run Gilead as John Mil­li­gan steps down

Gilead $GILD CEO John Mil­li­gan is out.

In a com­plete­ly un­ex­pect­ed an­nounce­ment, the big biotech com­pa­ny re­port­ed right af­ter the mar­ket close Wednes­day evening that Mil­li­gan will re­main in his po­si­tion un­til the end of the year, as the board looks for his suc­ces­sor.

He’s step­ping down, but Mil­li­gan clear­ly has an­oth­er ca­reer chap­ter in mind.

“It has been an hon­or to work at Gilead for my en­tire pro­fes­sion­al ca­reer and, now that the com­pa­ny is on sol­id foot­ing for the fu­ture, the Board and I have agreed it is a good time to turn the reins over to a new leader,” said Mil­li­gan in a state­ment. “I’m look­ing for­ward to a well-de­served break and will then move on to new and dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Al­so out is Chair­man John Mar­tin, who pre­ced­ed Mil­li­gan at the helm. He plans to leave once the new CEO ar­rives.

The up­com­ing change at the top has big im­pli­ca­tions, notes Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges, who’s been watch­ing this com­pa­ny for years. His note:

These an­nounce­ments come as a sur­prise to in­vestors giv­en Dr. Mil­li­gan’s 28-year ca­reer at Gilead and his rel­a­tive­ly short 2-year stint in the long-await­ed CEO po­si­tion, and no in­ter­nal suc­ces­sor has been iden­ti­fied. These an­nounce­ments clear­ly sig­nal a de­ci­sion by the com­pa­ny’s board to “go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion” and while we don’t be­lieve the or­der­ly de­par­tures sug­gest any im­me­di­ate is­sue, the ba­sis for these changes and their im­pli­ca­tions are like­ly to dom­i­nate in­vestor con­ver­sa­tions about the com­pa­ny for sev­er­al months. In­vestor chat­ter is like­ly to switch from “what’s Gilead go­ing to buy” to “who’s Gilead go­ing to hire,” and giv­en the com­pa­ny’s mixed hir­ing record, the ap­pointee may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be an in­di­vid­ual with im­me­di­ate in­dus­try or in­vestor cred­i­bil­i­ty. Cer­tain­ly these tran­si­tions con­firm our view that de­spite the ob­vi­ous need for sig­nif­i­cant new pipeline and prod­uct op­por­tu­ni­ties, Gilead won’t be mak­ing any ma­jor strate­gic moves for po­ten­tial­ly a year or more.

To­geth­er, Mar­tin and Mil­li­gan made biotech his­to­ry at Gilead. They led the team that pro­vid­ed a pain­less cure for he­pati­tis C, cre­at­ing a huge, if tem­po­rary, mega-mar­ket to prof­it from. And they con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the HIV space, of­fer­ing new block­buster com­bi­na­tion drugs that re­main the stan­dard ther­a­py in the field over ca­reers that spanned decades.

Faced with the de­cline of the hep C fran­chise, Mil­li­gan ag­gres­sive­ly snapped up Kite to be­come a leader in CAR-T, buy­ing new tech­nolo­gies along the way.

Mar­tin and Mil­li­gan al­so en­dured end­less crit­i­cism for their ag­gres­sive pric­ing strat­e­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly when they priced their he­pati­tis C drug at $84,000, trig­ger­ing out­rage from Wash­ing­ton DC to the Bay Area. That con­tro­ver­sy nev­er re­al­ly died out, leav­ing the in­dus­try with the worst rep it’s ever had.

They’ll be missed by in­vestors, but not by every­one.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.