When oncologist Thomas Lynch stepped into the role of chief scientific officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb two years ago, he declared that the company was “uniquely positioned to transform cancer care.” But now that BMS has purchased cancer bigwig Celgene for $74 billion, the company has clearly decided Lynch isn't the right guy to steer into a market-leading position.
And Lynch isn't the only player in the management shake-up BMS has planned when the Celgene deal closes. Notably absent from the lineup is Celgene CEO Mark Alles, who'll pick up a hefty severance package on his way out.
Celgene CFO David Elkins will replace Bristol's Charlie Bancroft, who'll turn his focus to the integration until he retires next year. And on the commercial side, Celgene's hematology and oncology chief, Nadim Ahmed, will head up BMS' hematology business.
The R&D revamp is the biggest surprise, though. Bristol will replace Lynch on the development side with an exec recruited not from Celgene, but Novartis: Samit Hirawat, M.D., the Swiss drugmaker's former head of oncology development. He'll take the title chief medical officer of global drug development—one of two new “core functional units” in the post-merger business structure, the company said in a statement.
The other unit will handle R&D higher up the pipeline. Dubbed research and early development, it'll be managed by Rupert Vessey, who now serves in that same role at Celgene. “Vessey will oversee the company’s expanded range of discovery platforms to drive scientific advancements across therapeutic areas and will work closely with Business Development to identify external sources of innovation,” the company said.
Lynch’s short tenure at BMS may be surprising, but BMS’s choice to replace him with talent from two companies that specialize in oncology is certainly understandable, considering the challenges facing the combined company’s cancer portfolio.
The biggest hurdle is BMS’ immuno-oncology blockbuster Opdivo, which has been losing market share to Merck & Co. and its seemingly unstoppable Keytruda. The loss has been particularly painful in lung cancer, where Opdivo has struggled to prove its value in the first-line setting. Meanwhile, Merck keeps racking up wins for Keytruda in lung cancer, most recently at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, where it rolled out data showing that 23% of previously untreated non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients who took the drug were still alive after five years.
Celgene is bringing its own set of oncology challenges to the table in the merger. One worry is its $9.7 billion-per-year multiple myeloma treatment Revlimid, which has faced patent challenges that could cause the drug to lose its market exclusivity earlier than investors are expecting. That was the main concern, in fact, of institutional investors like Starboard Value that tried to scuttle the BMS deal. And one Revlimid generic is already on the market in Europe.
Revlimid has scored some wins of late, including an FDA approval last week for a combination of the drug with Roche’s Rituxan in previously treated follicular or marginal zone lymphomas. Analysts estimate the approval could add $600 million a year in revenues to Celgene’s Revlimid haul. And the med cleared one IP threat when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tossed out a challenge to three of its patents.
New BMS hire Hirawat and his counterparts on the commercial side will have their hands full with six near-term product launches that the company expects to come out of the deal. They include a multiple myeloma CAR-T, ozanimod for multiple sclerosis, and luspatercept for beta thalassemia, which was just awarded priority review by the FDA.
Needless to say, the company’s current CEO Giovanni Caforio will stay in his position, as will chief commercial officer Chris Boerner. As head of hematology, Ahmed will presumably spearhead the rollouts if Celgene's multiple myeloma CAR-T and beta thalessemia therapy luspatercept—filed for approval Tuesday—win their regulatory green lights. And Elkins will transition into the CFO role as Bancroft handles integration duties, at least until he leaves the company in 2020.
As for Alles and his future, a spokesperson for Celgene told FiercePharma he will be working with BMS to "to ensure a seamless integration," and will "pursue other opportunities in the industry" after the deal closes.
Don’t cry for Alles, though. Thanks to some fancy footwork on the part of Celgene’s board late last year, just before the deal was announced, he’s set to receive $27.9 million if he leaves after the merger closes. That includes about $17 million in stock and the rest in cash and miscellaneous benefits.