Buck­le up: Biotech board ac­tivist Alex Den­ner is out to shake things up at Iron­wood

The change mas­ter of biotech is knock­ing at Iron­wood Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals’ front door. And he wants in with plans to stay for awhile.

Alex Den­ner, known for forc­ing out old CEOs and forc­ing through new buy­outs, has now set his sights on the long­time Boston/Cam­bridge play­er guid­ed by found­ing CEO Pe­ter Hecht, who launched the com­pa­ny 20 years ago with a plan for the long haul.

In an un­usu­al move, Iron­wood put out word of Den­ner’s move to join the board in a press re­lease Mon­day. And the com­pa­ny took the op­por­tu­ni­ty to point­ed­ly praise the board Hecht has al­ready as­sem­bled, which in­cludes 8 in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors on the 9-mem­ber group.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­lease, Iron­wood now wants to get some feed­back on the move from in­vestors, not­ing that the Saris­sa Cap­i­tal chief has been by for one vis­it and that they hope con­struc­tive talks will con­tin­ue. Its stock $IR­WD shot up 10% as in­vestors ea­ger­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed a change­up.

“I hope that we’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to have a pleas­ant and con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion, as I be­lieve we were hav­ing,” Den­ner told CN­BC. “To the ex­tent that they state in their press re­lease that they’re con­cerned with what in­vestors want, I’ve been told that more val­ue has been cre­at­ed for Iron­wood share­hold­ers to­day than in any sin­gle day in his­to­ry.”

That sounds at least slight­ly skep­ti­cal.

Be­hind the barbed pleas­antries, though, it’s clear that Den­ner is out to shake things up at Iron­wood, a com­pa­ny best known for its fran­chise drug Linzess and a pipeline of ther­a­pies in the same space. Sev­er­al an­a­lysts think the com­pa­ny could do bet­ter on the stock price, and Den­ner is all about val­ue cre­ation — with a big ap­petite for prof­it­ing from tur­bu­lence.

Iron­wood gained an ap­proval for Duza­l­lo, a com­bo ther­a­py that match­es lesin­u­rad and al­lop­uri­nol in one pill, last sum­mer. But Ge­off Meacham at Bar­clays and oth­ers ques­tioned Hecht’s rev­enue pro­jec­tions at the time. The biotech has al­so dis­ap­point­ed an­a­lysts with da­ta on IW-3718 for un­con­trolled GERD, which were pos­i­tive but fell short of Hecht’s en­thu­si­as­tic pro­jec­tion.

Add it up, and Den­ner can count on some lin­ger­ing frus­tra­tions to help add to his clout at Iron­wood — if he’s suc­cess­ful at this new play.

He’s cer­tain­ly not re­luc­tant to use his in­flu­ence to max­i­mum ef­fect.

As Carl Ic­ahn’s right hand man, Den­ner steered Bio­gen in a new di­rec­tion, forc­ing out Jim Mullen and bring­ing in George Scan­gos more than 5 years ago. Now that com­pa­ny is ex­pect­ed to steer through a new stretch of reengi­neer­ing as a new CEO looks over the pipeline and its prospects. Den­ner — who now runs his own shop at Saris­sa — al­so forced the sale of Ari­ad to Take­da and more re­cent­ly played a di­rect role in see­ing Biover­a­tiv go to Sanofi. Den­ner was Sanofi’s first stop on that deal, and was al­ways the most like­ly to see the up­side in a takeover tied to a big pre­mi­um. And he re­cent­ly took con­trol of The Med­i­cines Co. $MD­CO amid con­sid­er­able buzz.

What’s next for Iron­wood?

We’ll see. But busi­ness as usu­al is over for now.

Im­age: Alex Den­ner. CN­BC via GET­TY

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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James Sabry, Roche global head of pharma partnering

Roche, Genen­tech plunk down $60M up­front to part­ner with Chi­nese phar­ma on PRO­TAC-based prostate can­cer drug

Roche and Genentech are always on the hunt for deals, and on Thursday they found their newest partner.

The pair will team up with the Chinese pharma company Jemincare to push forward a new program for prostate cancer, the companies announced. Roche is ponying up $60 million upfront to get its hands on the candidate and promising up to $590 million in biobucks, plus royalties, down the line.

In return, Genentech will get a worldwide license to develop the program, known as JMKX002992, and bring it to market.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia ter­mi­nates Bay­er pact half a year ear­ly, col­lect­ing small por­tion of €240M promised

Bayer and Exscientia are winding down their three-year collaboration, leaving the big German pharma to take the AI-designed compounds born out of the pact further.

London-based Exscientia revealed in its Q2 update that the partners have “mutually agreed to end” their collaboration, which kicked off in early 2020, after recently achieving a drug discovery milestone. In an SEC filing, Exscientia said it terminated the pact on May 30, about six months early.

Chris Sheldon, AstraZeneca's former VP and head of investor relations

As­traZeneca files law­suit against for­mer ex­ec as he jumps to GSK

AstraZeneca and GSK are once again wrangling over talent.

The British pharma giant has filed suit against former VP and head of investor relations Chris Sheldon as he prepares to start a new job at its rival next month. AstraZeneca argued in a London court filing that Sheldon would be violating a non-compete agreement, which he was paid more than $774,000 in shares to sign back in 2021, Bloomberg reported.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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