Bristol-Myers Squibb hands chief commercial post to ex-U.S. head Christopher Boerner

Bristol-Myers Squibb
New Bristol commercial chief Christopher Boerner has been with the company since 2015. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Bristol-Myers Squibb has picked its new commercial chief—and the person who'll be charged with maximizing Opdivo's potential. Christopher Boerner, who's been running the company's international marketing, will now take the commercial reins worldwide.

Boerner, who's been with the New Jersey drugmaker for almost four years, is already plenty familiar with the U.S. side of the equation, too: He first came on as Bristol's U.S. commercial head. Before joining BMS, he worked at a variety of drugmakers, including Genentech, where he led launch efforts for blockbuster Avastin in metastatic breast cancer.

"Since joining BMS, he has successfully led our commercial organization across the U.S. and international markets. I am confident he will build upon the company’s solid foundation and continue to strengthen our ability to bring medicines to patients faster," CEO Giovanni Caforio said in a statement.

Boerner will have big shoes to fill; he's stepping in for departed commercial head Murdo Gordon, who left the company early this month to take the reins from Amgen commercial leader Tony Hooper. The news came as a surprise to industry watchers because Gordon had been with Bristol for decades.

RELATED: Ex-BMS commercial head Murdo Gordon lands at Amgen amid executive shuffle

Boerner also be taking on a big U.S. market mission: Keep immuno-oncology star Opdivo competitive in lung cancer against Merck & Co.'s archrival drug Keytruda. To do that, Opdivo will need to step up in a big way after it snags an approval for previously untreated patients, an indication that’s currently under review at the FDA. But much of its data centers on a biomarker known as tumor mutational burden, meaning the first order of business for Bristol will be getting doctors to test for it.

That may be easier said than done. At an educational panel at June’s American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, presenting doctors “were all in agreement that TMB testing is not ready for routine clinical practice, recommending against testing all patients for it at this time,” Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan wrote in a note to clients at the time.

RELATED: Bristol-Myers surprise: Threatened I-O drug Opdivo stands its ground in lung cancer

In the meantime, though, Bristol’s job will be to hang onto second-line share in lung cancer, despite two Keytruda approvals in previously untreated patients that are shrinking the patient pool. And Gordon and the rest of Bristol’s U.S. commercial squad has set the company up for success in that department: On the company’s second-quarter conference call in late July, executives said Opdivo was still hanging onto a 30% to 35% piece of the pie.