Alnylam founding CEO Maraganore steps down after pioneering RNA interference therapy

John Maraganore casual
During John Maraganore's tenure, Alnylam translated Nobel-winning RNA interference technology into the first FDA-approved product, Onpattro. (Alnylam)

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals’ founding CEO, John Maraganore, Ph.D., is leaving after a near 20-year run.

Maraganore will step down at the end of 2021, Alnylam said in a surprising announcement Thursday. Yvonne Greenstreet, the company’s president and chief operating officer, will take over the reins.

The longtime Alnylam chief seems to already have the next stop of his career planned out. “I have decided that this is the right time to transition my leadership at year-end to focus my next chapter on helping other entrepreneurs and companies advance new frontiers of medicine,” he said in a statement.

Maraganore joined Alnylam as its founding CEO in 2002 after a stint at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which is now part of Takeda. During his tenure, Alnylam translated the Nobel-winning RNA interference technology into the first FDA-approved product, Onpattro, in 2018 after navigating multiple setbacks and loss of Big Pharma partnerships in the field. This class of drugs works by silencing mRNA that encodes for disease-causing proteins.

Onpattro has been approved to treat nerve damage caused by the rare genetic disorder called hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis (hATTR). In the following years, Alnylam also introduced Givlaari for acute hepatic porphyria and Oxlumo for the rare metabolic disorder of primary hyperoxaluria type 1.

RELATED: Alnylam CEO Maraganore scored $7.8M in 2020 pay. Or was it $13.6M? Depends how you view the numbers

Maraganore is surely leaving on a high note. In the first nine months of 2021, those three marketed drugs brought Alnylam $463.6 million in sales, up 86.4% over the same period last year. And still in the pipeline is Vutrisiran, a long-acting, subcutaneous RNAi therapeutic. It reported positive phase 3 results from an 18-month analysis in hATTR polyneuropathy, and  Alnylam wrapped up enrollment in an ATTR cardiomyopathy trial ahead of schedule.

The company’s RNAi technology is also behind Leqvio, or inclisiran, which was the centerpiece of Novartis’ $9.7 billion acquisition of The Medicines Company. The PCSK9 drug has won EU approval in patients with high cholesterol levels and awaits an FDA decision on New Year’s Day.

During the first nine months, Alnylam recorded $122.1 million from collaboration and royalty revenues.

Maraganore is also a leading voice in the biotech industry. He served as the chair of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) during the 2017-18 term, an eventful period for the industry association what with a notorious unofficial party at its 2018 annual event that featured topless dancers with company logos painted on their bodies. Maraganore, along with other BIO leaders, immediately denounced the party.

RELATED: 2020's Fiercest Women in Life Sciences Yvonne Greenstreet—Alnylam

A few months after the event, Maraganore and other BIO colleagues co-signed a letter to its members, outlining an ambitious goal to raise the female representation at the functional leader and C-suite level to 50% from 25% by 2025.

Now, Maraganore is handing the baton to a female CEO.

Greenstreet, 59, joined Alnylam in 2016 as COO, and the president title was added last year. She previously held leadership roles at Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline before launching a private investment firm called Highgate.

“I couldn’t be more excited about Alnylam’s future under Yvonne’s leadership and am more confident than ever in the company’s prospects,” Maraganore said in a statement.

Greenstreet was a winner of 2020’s Fiercest Women in Life Sciences.