Celgene ends horse race for CEO successor, tapping Mark Alles

Celgene's ($CELG) Mark Alles will join biopharma's slate of new CEOs in March as part of a management reshuffling at the $9 billion-plus biotech. Current chief Bob Hugin, who has led Celgene through a major expansion over the past 5 years, will move upstairs to the executive chairman's office.

Alles will take over at a time of great expectations for Celgene, a blood cancer specialist that's working to break into autoimmune diseases; it recently spent $7.2 billion on Receptos to do just that. Hugin set his sights on tripling Celgene's earnings by 2020, and there's no sign that Alles will lower that target.

But Celgene's path to that goal could be a bit rocky; the company admitted that its 2015 sales are likely to fall on the lower end of its forecast, at $9.16 billion; previously, it had pegged net sales at $9 billion to $9.5 billion. The company also fell short of analyst expectations with a 2016 forecast of $10.5 billion to $11 billion in product sales, and $5.50 to $5.70 in adjusted earnings per share.

Key to Celgene's short-term strategy are its multiple myeloma meds, the megablockbuster Revlimid and up-and-coming Pomalyst. The company expects as much as $6.7 billion from Revlimid this year, and it recently wrapped up a patent settlement with India's Natco Pharma to keep branded sales coming through 2022.

Pomalyst, already in a head-to-head battle with Amgen's ($AMGN) Kyprolis, faces some new competition from Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and AbbVie's ($ABBV) Empliciti; Takeda's Ninlaro; and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Darzalex, which is priced lower than the Celgene med at $135,000 per year. So far, Pomalyst has led the market share race in multiple myeloma patients who've relapsed after two other rounds of therapy, but a bigger market awaits in second-line treatment, and Amgen's Kyprolis was first to move there with an FDA approval in July.

The management changes take effect March 1, with hematology and oncology chief Jacqualyn Fouse taking Alles' COO role. The two had been in an apparent horse race for Hugin's job ever since they were elevated to their current jobs in mid-2014. Hugin will remain "actively involved in key business matters," the company said in a statement, with responsibility for its overall strategy.

Biopharma's top companies have a crop of new CEOs, including Giovanni Caforio at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Olivier Brandicourt at Sanofi ($SNY). Kåre Schultz, formerly of Novo Nordisk ($NVO), took the reins at Lundbeck last year when its former chief quit in the midst of a scandal, and Merck KGaA has tapped Stefan Oschmann to lead its next chapter.

- read the Celgene release

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