Ex-Sanofi, Schering CEOs were on a short list to replace Valeant chief Pearson: WSJ

Plenty of industry watchers didn't expect to see embattled Valeant ($VRX) CEO J. Michael Pearson return to the helm after a two-month bout with severe pneumonia. And as it turns out, he almost didn't.

Chris Viehbacher

At one point, the company's board--which talked with a slate of potential CEO replacements--was leaning toward ousting Pearson, The Wall Street Journal reports. And former Sanofi ($SNY) CEO Chris Viehbacher, interim Valeant CEO Howard Schiller, and former Schering-Plough CEO Fred Hassan, who also had served as chairman of Valeant subsidiary Bausch & Lomb, were on the short list to fill his shoes.

But as high-profile PBMs made moves to freeze out Valeant products, Pearson insisted that his close ties to those companies, as well as insurers and doctors--and his knowledge of what drug discounts the company could afford--made him indispensable, sources told the paper. And the argument worked.

Pearson took back the reins in late February, promising, among other things, to bolster the Canadian drugmaker's relationships with payers, regulators and government officials. And in his first week on the job, he held drug-pricing talks with reps from Express Scripts ($ESRX), which stopped covering pricey Valeant diabetes med Glumetza once a cheaper generic hit the scene, according to the WSJ. He's expected to meet with other key Valeant customers in the weeks ahead.

Of course, Pearson's PBM connections weren't the only factor working in his favor when it came to resecuring his job. Valeant would have been on the hook for $200 million in deferred stock compensation for him if they'd sent him packing, the Journal notes, and that hefty golden parachute could have sparked investors' ire.

Since returning, though, Pearson hasn't taken over all his old responsibilities. The title of chairman now belongs to Robert Ingram, who filled that post while Pearson was out sick. And the company's board has also kick-started a search for his successor so it can have a backup plan, sources told the WSJ.

Meanwhile, Pearson has plenty on his plate aside from the payer negotiations. Congress and politicians still have beef with Valeant over its price-hike strategy, and the SEC is investigating the company's relationship with former specialty pharmacy Philidor. On top of that, Valeant is behind on its financial reporting, thanks to a Philidor-related earnings restatement and Pearson's comeback.

- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

Special Report: The most influential people in biopharma today - 2014 - J. Michael Pearson - Valeant

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