Is Pozen prepping to sell out? Sudden CEO exit, new Irish subsidiary hint yes

Pozen ($POZN) has had its share of woes in recent months: Manufacturing problems at its contract supplier tanked new drug applications twice in a row, and Big Pharma partner Sanofi ($SNY) bailed on their development deal for the new-and-improved aspirins.

Former Pozen CEO John Plachetka

Now, its founder, chairman and CEO is taking a hike. And Pozen's choice of a replacement hints that a sale may be on the way.

John Plachetka--described as an outspoken, even "fiery" type--is retiring from his CEO post, effective immediately. He's also exiting the board of directors completely. To replace him as CEO, Pozen has brought on Adrian Adams, CEO at Auxilium till it was sold off to Endo ($ENDP) in January. Board member Arthur Kirsch will take over as chairman, and one of Adams' Auxilium colleagues, Andrew Koven, joined as president.

Pozen revealed those moves Monday. By this morning, the North Carolina-based drugmaker was announcing that it had set up an Irish subsidiary, Pozen Limited, as a springboard for international growth, WRAL TechWire points out. 

Or perhaps an eventual tax inversion? Ireland is a tax-friendly jurisdiction that now hosts several major drug companies, including Actavis ($ACT), Perrigo ($PRGO) and Shire ($SHPG). Also, to recruit Adams and Koven, Pozen gave each a stake in the company--5.4% and 4.1%, respectively. The shares vest over four years; though we haven't seen their agreements with Pozen, standard exec contracts allow for accelerated vesting in a sale.

Other evidence that Pozen may be grooming itself for potential bidders is Adams' employment history, TechWire notes; it's a litany of top-executive posts at companies that sold to larger drugmakers. Kos Pharmaceuticals (bought by Abbott Labs), Sepracor (bought by Dainippon), and Inspire Pharmaceuticals (bought by Merck), and of course Auxilium. Inspire, we should also mention, was founded by none other than Plachetka himself.

"This experience will be critical in helping Pozen in assessing our strategic options at this time," the company said in a statement about the management switch, "and leading [pain reliever] Yosprala through the final anticipated stages of approval and into commercial launch." 

Yosprala is the aspirin project Sanofi abandoned. Combining aspirin with the stomach drug omeprazole, the pair of treatments is designed to help patients take daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other CV complications. The FDA rejected the meds for the second time in December, citing problems at an API supplier. 

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