Nine months after landing a new job as CEO of the Dutch gene therapy biotech uniQure, Dan Soland abruptly quit on Thursday, saying the unexpected move was due “solely” to family reasons. And the company says it doesn’t plan on replacing him immediately, preferring to wait until after it implements a new corporate strategy now in the works.
CFO Matthew Kapusta will now take the helm as interim CEO, with former president Philip Astley-Sparke stepping up as chairman. In a statement, Astley-Sparke praised Kapusta for his work “guiding an ongoing, comprehensive strategic planning process.”
I queried Astley-Sparke — the CEO of BioVex when Amgen bought it for $425 million up front, plus milestones — on what that corporate strategy will focus on, but didn’t hear back immediately.
The changeup comes a few months after uniQure fared poorly in the latest beauty contest among the gene therapies being developed for hemophilia B. A crowded field, Spark Therapeutics $ONCE drew praise for achieving 27% to 35% Factor IX (FIX) activity among 4 patients, while uniQure had to settle for a 2% to 6.3% range for a single infusion of AMT-060. Two months later Shire opted to drop its rival gene therapy in the field, the one-time leader BAX 335, in favor of a preclinical effort after analysts panned the variable results the program had posted.
Uniqure attracted considerable attention for winning the first European approval for a gene therapy. Glybera was green lighted for ultra rare cases of lipoprotein lipase deficiency in 2012. But as MIT Technology Review’s Antonio Regalado pointed out in May, it was only used once, and getting an approval for a questionable therapy that costs $1 million proved to be an Olympic challenge no one else wanted to tackle.
The biotech dropped plans to pursue a US approval late last year.
Soland had this to say in a statement:
“My decision to resign as chief executive officer is due solely to personal family reasons. I regret the abrupt nature of this decision but believe that it is in the best interests of uniQure, its employees and shareholders to ensure that the business has the fully committed leadership it requires. I have continued confidence in the Company’s gene therapy platform, its research and clinical development programs and its leadership in manufacturing. I wish everyone associated with the Company tremendous success.”
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