In June, as Bristol-Myers Squibb was preparing to seal up its $74 billion purchase of Celgene, it said that 17-year veteran Paul Biondi would serve as head of strategy and business development for the newly combined company. He was to be one of 15 members of the management team, which included executives from BMS, Celgene and Novartis.
But apparently Biondi wasn’t interested in the opportunity. He left last month around the time the BMS-Celgene merger closed.
Biondi exited the company “to pursue an external opportunity,” a spokeswoman for BMS said in a statement emailed to FiercePharma. BMS is currently searching for his replacement, she said.
Biondi was named head of business development in 2015 and presided over several of the company’s key deals. In 2017, for example, BMS paid Halozyme $105 million for access to technology that will allow for the development of immuno-oncology drugs that can be injected under the skin. Later that year, the company expanded a drug-development pact with immuno-oncology drug developer Ono to include a phase 1 selective PGE2 receptor 4 (EP4) antagonist.
In July of this year, Bristol and Ono formed a collaboration with Bayer centered around BMS’ immuno-oncology stalwart Opdivo. The companies plan to test Opdivo in combination with Bayer’s Stivarga in metastatic colon cancer.
Biondi told InformaConnect in July that BMS would continue to prioritize partnering as a centerpiece of business development after the Celgene merger. “Historically at BMS and at Celgene as well, business development and R&D have worked hand in glove together in terms of sourcing innovation,” he said. He vowed to maintain a close alignment between R&D, business development and the commercial teams so deals can be consummated “over a matter of months,” as was the case with the Bayer partnership.
Now, BMS is faced with the challenge of finding a replacement for Biondi at a time when it already has its hands full with the Celgene integration. On Friday, BMS announced an overhaul of its corporate affairs and investor relations group. The executive vice president of that unit, John Elicker, will retire in March and be replaced by Kathryn Metcalfe, currently chief communications officer of CVS, BMS said. Tim Power, a 13-year BMS veteran, will helm investor relations.
Biondi’s departure was not the first surprise to emerge from the integration process. Thomas Lynch, who took over as BMS’ chief scientific officer just two years ago, was left off the post-merger management team altogether and replaced by Samit Hirawat, M.D., former head of oncology development at Novartis. Celgene veteran Rupert Vessey was assigned head of research and early development.
Those selections were seen as a clear sign that BMS intends to prioritize oncology development—a smart strategy, considering its ongoing challenges with Opdivo. Over the summer, a combination of the drug with chemotherapy failed to extend lives in a trial involving patients with non-squamous lung cancer, failing to live up to the success Merck and Roche have both achieved with PD-1/PD-L1-chemo combos of their own.