Teva CEO Vigodman exits, piling uncertainty onto the struggling drugmaker

Teva
Teva CEO Erez Vigodman is stepping down, and company chairman Yitzhak Peterburg will take over as interim chief.

So long, Erez Vigodman. After a brutal 2016 and start to 2017 for Teva, the company’s CEO is stepping down.

The move, announced late Monday, comes as the result of a “mutual agreement” between Vigodman and Teva’s board, the drugmaker said. Teva Chairman Yitzhak Peterburg will take up the reins as interim CEO while Teva works with a search firm to tap a permanent replacement. Director and Celgene vet Sol Barer will serve as chairman.

Vigodman’s departure follows several months of turmoil at the Israeli pharma. Last year, it faced lengthy delays to its $40.5 billion pickup of Allergan’s generics unit, which investors weren’t all that keen on by the time it actually closed. Then, Teva’s buy of Mexico’s Rimsa went so awry that Rimsa’s founders sued the company. In December, generics CEO Siggi Olafsson—a big supporter of the Allergan deal—unexpectedly hit the road. A tough pricing environment for the generics industry was the icing on the cake.

And so far, 2017 hasn’t been much kinder. In January, Teva walked back its 2017 sales guidance by more than $1 billion, citing launches that hadn’t gone as planned. Inherited pay-for-delay penalties have taken their toll, and late last month, a court tossed out four patents on long-acting multiple sclerosis star Copaxone to put billions of dollars at risk.

While investors haven’t enjoyed the roller coaster—in October, shares hit a two-year low, and they’ve only gone south from there—“we believe that more investors will be uneasy with the uncertainty of an unexpected and abrupt CEO departure,” Wells Fargo analyst David Maris wrote in a Monday note to clients.

Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat has already heard feedback to that effect. “On average, investor reaction has been neutral to slightly negative,” he wrote in his own note Tuesday morning.

One influential shareholder who may not be too torn up over the change: Activist Benny Landa, who has lobbied for years for more pharma experience on Teva’s board.

"What was obvious to me in the past is now clear: the most suitable CEO is someone with a strong background in global pharma—ideally, a person who has managed a pharma company or was in a very senior position in a pharma company,” he told Israeli newspaper Globes.

But seasoned vets aren’t all Landa wants to see at the Petah Tikva-based company. The way he sees it, splitting Teva into two companies—one focused on generics, one on specialty meds—would ensure that “each company gets its fair share of the debt and cash in order to give each company its chance to take off."

“Teva has recently focused on generics to the extent that it lost direction, and didn't realize that it should invest in the innovative field for the sake of its future,” he said. “These are actually two sectors with almost no connection between them.”