FibroGen's longtime CFO hands baton to J&J veteran as high-profile roxadustat blowup cues a likely overhaul

Twenty-year Johnson & Johnson veteran Juan Graham will become FibroGen's new chief financial officer to oversee an expected business overhaul. (FibroGen)

FibroGen is losing yet another C-level executive. The latest transition comes as the San Francisco biotech grapples with the FDA rejection of its AstraZeneca-partnered anemia drug roxadustat.

Pat Cotroneo, who joined FibroGen in 2000 and has been the firm’s chief financial officer since 2008, will retire on Sept. 6, the company said Monday. Taking his place will be Juan Graham, who’s currently vice president of finance supply chain at Johnson & Johnson.

As FibroGen CEO Enrique Conterno noted in a statement, Graham joins at “a critical time” for the company as it expects multiple clinical milestones. What he didn’t mention in Monday’s release is that FibroGen recently suffered an FDA rejection for its lead drug, likely prompting executives to take a tough look at the company’s overall structure.

Before the rejection, Conterno told investors that if FibroGen received an FDA complete response letter, the company “would need to basically reassess our priorities and reallocate our resources and significantly decrease expenses.”

Without the additional cash contribution from roxa in the U.S., FibroGen needs a restructuring to sustain itself, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a note to clients after the roxa rebuff.

Another drug in development at the biotech, pamrevlumab, is currently in phase 3 testing in pancreatic cancer, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. That drug might come to the market in 2024, Porges said.

RELATED: Surprise, surprise: AstraZeneca and FibroGen's once-hyped anemia drug roxadustat hits an FDA wall

As Porges sees it, Conterno’s comment during the call “suggested that the plan would involve significant headcount and expense reductions.” The analyst has previously suggested FibroGen should slim down by at least a third. He doesn't believe FibroGen and AstraZeneca will run another late-stage trial on roxa because of safety concerns.

Looking forward, the company is tapping Graham to help deal with the roxa fallout. To ensure a smooth transition, the outgoing CFO Cotroneo, who was 57 as of April 13, will stay on as executive adviser to the CEO until March 31.

It was during Cotroneo’s tenure that FibroGen became a publicly traded company in 2014 and vaulted to the commercial stage with roxa’s launch in China in 2019.

RELATED: After getting ditched by Big Pharma veteran, FibroGen hopes it has its chief scientific officer

Graham has spent 20 years at J&J. He has held a variety of finance-related roles at the Big Pharma, including in business development and at J&J Innovation, which houses the firm’s incubator program JLABS.

Cotroneo’s departure represents the latest C-suite shuffle at FibroGen. The company last month just welcomed John Hunter, Ph.D., to be its chief scientific officer as Percy Carter, Ph.D., left for Blueprint Medicines after a less-than-a-year stint. FibroGen’s current chief medical officer, Mark Eisner, M.D., just came on board in December after his predecessor K. Peony Yu, M.D., retired.