How much can a new EVP help Valeant's badly battered derm unit?

Valeant’s dermatology unit has had a rough year—and while the company has a new business head on the way in, it’s unclear how much he’ll be able to help the struggling division.

Late Monday, the Canadian pharma announced it’d be bringing in industry vet William Humphries to run the dermatology show. With 20 years of commercial and operational experience under his belt—gained through roles including CEO of Merz North America, president of dermatology-focused Stiefel, and VP of Allergan’s U.S. skincare business, Humphries may be a “wise pick to usher in an education in the ‘basics’ of sales and promotion, something CEO Joe Papa felt the company lacked” when he assumed his post earlier this year, Barclays analyst Doug Tsao wrote in a note to clients.

“The shakeup not only signals that dermatology is a core growth segment, but also that the company is refocusing and pulling in more traditional, ‘pedigreed’ talent," he said.

As Wells Fargo analyst David Maris pointed out in an interview with FiercePharma, though, the embattled company’s “lack of funds to spend on marketing” could pose a real problem.

“If you’re not being allowed to spend a lot, then as a marketing person ... you’re hamstrung,” Maris said. “You’re really limited on what management you can do.”

Another potential problem Valeant could face in the dermatology sales and marketing arena, despite the new appointment? Recruiting. “You can change the people at the top, but what will that do for recruiting a sales person to Valeant? Nothing,” Maris said. Exec switches “won’t get one new salesperson to come over and say ‘I really believe in this company’ because at any point they could just sell the company out from a new employee.”

Indeed, Valeant’s dermatology meds have been the subject of asset-sale rumors this year. In May, Bloomberg reported that the Quebec-based drugmaker was weighing a sale of 2013 skincare buy Obagi Medical Products, and buzz followed about a sale of Solta Medical, another 2013 acquisition, too. In July, Eduardo Sanchiz, skipper of Spain’s Almirall, said his company was in the “very initial stages” of a sales process for some of Valeant’s dermatology products.

“We're studying the situation but waiting for more information," he told Reuters at the time.

Meanwhile, Valeant said it’s worked hard to keep the reps it currently has. After nixing its relationship with controversial specialty pharmacy Philidor, a move that hit Valeant’s dermatology meds hardest, then-CEO J. Michael Pearson implemented a retention program for its key sales and marketing staff, and in December he said that that program had paid off.

"We've lost no one," he told investors. "We lost two reps in dermatology. That's it."

Of course, that was before then-dermatology head Deb Jorn made her own exit in March.

Dermatology isn’t the only area where Valeant’s faced issues with its rep ranks. In June, Papa blamed slumping sales of lead GI med Xifaxan on “sales force disruption” over the 12 months prior.

In that arena, though, Valeant’s got a new plan in place, and that involves adding reps who can focus on potential primary care physician prescribers. Valeant, which reportedly tried to sell the business to Takeda before talks broke down, believes it can reach “a significant majority” of likely prescribers of Xifaxan and fellow GI med oral Relistor with the new effort, it said earlier this month.