Eisai's US CEO and Alzheimer's lead Ivan Cheung telegraphs retirement days after Leqembi's full FDA nod

Right after Leqembi's full approval from the U.S. FDA, Eisai’s global Alzheimer’s disease officer is getting ready to hang up his hat.

Ivan Cheung, who also serves as the Japanese pharma’s American CEO, will retire at the end of the month, Eisai said in a Tuesday release. With Cheung headed for the exit, Keisuke Naito—the 34-year-old son of Eisai’s head honcho Haruo Naito—has taken up the lead Alzheimer’s disease mantle, the company added.

Cheung is leaving on a high note, with the announcement of his departure coming just a few days after Eisai’s Biogen-partnered Alzheimer’s med Leqembi (lecanemab) converted its accelerated approval into a traditional green light.

Leqembi, which represents the partners’ second Alzheimer’s medicine after Aduhelm’s catastrophic launch, snagged its initial nod back in early January. While Eisai and Biogen started logging sales of Leqembi as soon as Jan. 18, the med’s full launch—and broader Medicare coverage—were contingent upon the receipt of a full approval in the U.S.

With that FDA blessing now in hand, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week telegraphed intentions to cover the anti-amyloid antibody “more broadly,” with plans to implement a new billing code for Leqembi on a “very compressed schedule.”

Thanks to those achievements, Cheung believes he “realized his missions” at Eisai and has a “strong desire to pursue a new chapter in his leadership career,” the company has said, adding that it “respects his decision.”

"Ivan Cheung has made tremendous contributions to the realization of social good through the successful development of lecanemab, the world's first treatment for the underlying pathology of early-stage Alzheimer's Disease,” Eisai’s global CEO Haruo Naito said in a statement.

Looking to avoid turbulence, Eisai has distributed Cheung’s responsibilities to two internal executives. Aside from chief Naito’s son, Keisuke, who’s inherited the post of global Alzheimer’s officer in addition to his current role as senior vice president, chief strategy and planning officer and chief ecosystem officer, Eisai’s chief financial officer and chief of investor relations, Tatsuyuki Yasuno, will pick up Cheung’s U.S. CEO position.

Wasting no time, Eisai says it has implemented an “immediate and orderly” changing of the guard

Cheung, for his part, joined Eisai back in October 2005. He became Eisai’s North American SVP, chairman and CEO, plus president of the company’s global neurology business, in the spring of 2016. That responsibility morphed into the more specialized role of global Alzheimer’s disease officer in September 2019, when Cheung was tapped to lead development and launch preparations for Leqembi, then in development as lecanemab.

Cheung has also played a prominent role in Eisai’s oncology business, leading the initial worldwide launch for Lenvima, around which he also struck a strategic partnership with Merck & Co.

Industry watchers have pinned high hopes on Leqembi over the coming years. By taking the lead in the Alzheimer’s race, Eisai and Biogen are in line to realize potential Leqembi sales of $12.9 billion through 2028, analysts at GlobalData Healthcare opined earlier this year.

Around the same time, Evaluate Vantage predicted Leqembi would pick up commercial momentum throughout the decade, pegging global revenues for 2028 at $3 billion. That’s slightly below the $4.6 billion GlobalData has forecast for that same year.