'I want to be a granddad': Why John Maraganore left and where he (and Alnylam) are going
John Maraganore knew that people would be surprised when Alnylam announced his departure this morning after 19 years as CEO of the company. But he said it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.
“Nineteen years as a CEO leading Alnylam has been the greatest joy of my life, but 19 years has been a long time,” he said in an interview Thursday morning. That’s “being in the 24/7 operational mode of running a company for 19 years.”
Maraganore, 59, started as CEO when Phillip Sharp and a handful of scientists and investors decided to launch a new company around RNAi, a new technology for silencing genes that would go on to win the Nobel Prize. He remained CEO as the company faced technological hurdles, laid off employees, and lost the interest of investors and large pharmas.
But beginning about a decade ago, Maraganore outlined a series of five-year plans that, by 2018, resulted in the first approved RNAi drug. Another approval followed each successive year, and a fourth is likely to come in 2022.
In the process, he won a rare degree of trust from the once skeptical investors, which explains why the stock $ALNY dropped 12.5% on news of Maraganore’s depature, a $3 billion swing for the big biotech.
So Maraganore will likely have his share of offers, though he’ll probably turn many down. His CEO days are done, he said: Too much time, too much energy, too much commitment.
“My wife would punch me in the gut,” he said.
Instead, he’ll drift for the venture world, he said, even if he never fully joins any one firm. He believes the heyday of biomedical innovation is just beginning and he wants to advise new companies at the forefront.
“It’s like a grandfather, right? You get the benefit of loving your grandchildren, but not having to take care of them all the time,” Maraganore said. “I want to be a granddad.”
He leaves the keys to Alnylam with Yvonne Greenstreet, who joined the biotech in 2016 after stints at Pfizer and GSK and who was promoted last year to president and COO.
Greenstreet, also 59, will be responsible for executing Alnylam’s latest five-year plan. Unveiled before last year’s JPM, it promised to leave as a top five biotech by market cap by 2025, with six drugs on the market, 20 molecules in the clinic, and 500,000 patients taking RNAi therapeutics globally.
The new move won’t change that plan, Greenstreet said. Alnylam had been earmarking her as a successor for “a bit of time,” Maraganore said, and she helped craft the latest plan.
Executing will require competing with other new modalities. RNAi was one of the only genetic technologies available when Alnylam was founded, alongside antisense. Now, thanks in part to some of the innovations the company helped pioneer, there are more than a half dozen, including mRNA, gene therapy, gene editing.
This year, Intellia, one of the first CRISPR companies, showed proof-of-concept for a one-time treatment for amyloidosis, threatening Alnylam’s biggest revenue generator: Onpattro, an amyloidosis treatment that has to be given every three weeks. The company’s next big drug is a new amyloidosis treatment that has to be given quarterly.
Greenstreet and Maraganore are confident, though, that Alnylam will remain competitive in any disease that involves knocking down a gene. They’re working on medicines with even longer durations, researching ways to deliver into the nervous system with Regeneron, and beginning to push their own drugs in more common disorders.
“I’m going to continue executing without losing any momentum,” Greenstreet said in an interview. “We’ve only just really started seeing the possible is well be able to deliver to patients with RNAi.”