Allergan CEO Saunders puts on chairman's cap as Actavis architect Bisaro exits

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders

Allergan Executive Chairman Paul Bisaro is stepping aside for rising star Brent Saunders--again.

Now Allergan CEO, Saunders took Bisaro’s place as chairman of the company’s board on Wednesday. Bisaro will stay on Allergan's slate of directors, and Christopher Coughlin will slip into the spot of lead independent director, the company said.

Bistro first passed the reins to Saunders back in 2014 after Bisaro’s Actavis bought Saunders’ Forest Labs. Saunders took the helm as chief exec of the combined company, with Bisaro moving into the exec chairman role he's now leaving.

In some ways, Bisaro had already handed off the baton. After the Forest buy, Actavis, a top generics player, continued diving into brands under Saunders’ guidance. Buying Allergan in a $66 billion deal--and taking on its name--played a large role in that transformation.

The evolution from a hybrid brand-generics company to branded pharma finally wrapped up this summer, when Allergan sold off its generics unit--aka Actavis, the business Bisaro built--to Teva.

Along the way, Saunders has put his own spin on the company, breaking with his pharma peers on more than one occasion. For one, he recently promised the public he’d limit price increases to reflect pharma’s “social contract”--a significant vow, considering the recent controversy over lofty hikes from companies including Valeant and Mylan.

Beyond that, he’s kept Allergan accessible through his personal social media presence. Saunders is active on both Instagram and Twitter--and his feeds are much more personable than your average corporate pharma account. He recently invited consumers to reach out on Twitter, when he included his handle in a New York Times ad on Allergan’s pricing manifesto.

Now, Saunders will only have more control to steer Allergan in his own direction--and for now, that direction includes what he calls “stepping-stone deals.” After the U.S. Treasury stymied an attempt to join hands with Pfizer, Saunders said the Dublin drugmaker would be focusing on much smaller acquisitions--and so far, he’s stuck to his word. On Thursday, he added another to a recent series, when Allergan said it would exercise an option to acquire GI drugmaker Motus Therapeutics.

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