Forest Laboratories ($FRX) CEO Howard Solomon is having an unwelcome case of déjà vu. Activist investor Carl Icahn plans to come back to the proxy ring with another set of director nominees. Along with those nominations is sure to come a litany of complaints about Solomon's recent helmsmanship.
Given Icahn's history of dogged pursuit--and his remarks after Forest shareholders voted down his slate last year--his return performance can't be a surprise. But Solomon greeted Icahn's announcement with understandable dismay. "[W]e are puzzled and disappointed that Mr. Icahn's first chosen method of engagement since last year is the threat of yet another proxy contest," Solomon said in a statement.
Icahn has targeted one drug company after another over the last several years. At ImClone, his proxy battles ended up triggering the company's sale to Eli Lilly ($LLY). Hammering on Biogen Idec ($BIIB) three years in a row won him three seats on the board. Amylin Pharmaceuticals ($AMLN) now has one Icahn rep on its board, and Icahn was trying for more until a private talk with its CEO; the company is now reportedly entertaining several Big Pharma buyout bids.
Forest came into Icahn's sights after Solomon successfully fought off an attempt by U.S. regulators to bar him from doing business with government health programs; the company had been involved in a marketing settlement, including allegations that it marketed an unapproved drug. Solomon and his team faced the impending loss of exclusivity on its antidepressant Lexapro, which accounted for the majority of its revenues. Icahn questioned Solomon's leadership and lambasted the company's preparation for generic Lexapro rivals.
Forest has launched a couple of new products, and it has several promising drugs in development, Morningstar analyst Damien Conover told Reuters. And this is a time when Big Pharma desperately needs new drugs to fill its own patent-loss gaps. "I would think Icahn's motivation here is to get the firm to sell themselves for a premium," Conover told the news service.