Saunders finds life after Allergan on board at newly IPO'ed BridgeBio

Former Allergan chairman and CEO Brent Saunders has taken a board seat at BridgeBio Pharma, offering his experience in drug launch—and potentially M&A. (Allergan)

Less than two months after Allergan was officially taken in by AbbVie, its last helmsman, Brent Saunders, has landed on the board of a young biotech that recently pulled off a large IPO.

Saunders has been named an independent director of BridgeBio Pharma, the California biotech said Wednesday. He joins two other new additions to the board: Incyte co-founder and former chairman Randy Scott, and BridgeBio’s own co-founder, economist Andrew Lo.

At his new job, Saunders hopes his experience “leading and growing global pharmaceutical companies” will help guide BridgeBio as it draws closer to commercializing its first drugs, he said in a statement. But BridgeBio also called Saunders a “dealmaker,” hinting that drug-launch advice isn’t all the company’s looking for from an executive known for pulling off big M&A.

On the future launch side, perhaps the most important asset at BridgeBio is BBP-265 (AG10), in phase 3 clinical development by its subsidiary Eidos Therapeutics for the rare heart disorder transthyretin amyloidosis cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM).

The drug could be a rival to Pfizer’s potential blockbuster Vyndaqel (tafamidis). But the company recently pushed back completion of enrollment in the ATTRibute phase 3 trial to the first half of 2021 because of COVID-19. SVB Leerink analyst Mani Foroohar subsequently pegged potential FDA approval to the second half of 2022, months later than previously expected.

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In addition to a long list of drugs for genetic diseases, BridgeBio also has infigratinib, an FGFR inhibitor its subsidiary QED Therapeutics is testing in cancer. To help fund those programs, BridgeBio went public last June in an upsized IPO of $348.5 million.

Then in October, the biotech was denied a merger deal by its Eidos unit to acquire the remaining 34% of Eidos shares it doesn’t already own, even though it raised its offer twice to the final tender equivalent to 1.5 BridgeBio shares for each piece of Eidos share.

At that time, Neil Kumar, CEO of BridgeBio and Eidos, said they will return to operating the two firms separately. But will the parent firm go after Eidos again? By the look of Saunders’ appointment, it just may be.

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Calling the former Allergan CEO a “deal-maker,” BridgeBio recounted Saunders’ previous M&A experience. Before the final $63 billion takeover by AbbVie, Saunders engineered the acquisition of Allergan by his Actavis in 2015. And he joined Actavis by way of an acquisition of Forest Laboratories, where he served as president and CEO.

He was credited for leading Allergan to launch over 15 products and achieve 9.4% revenue growth. Though the last few years of his tenure weren’t all smooth sailing. Investors unhappy with the company’s depressed performance pressured for a split-up between Saunders’ CEO and chairman roles.

Saunders represents the latest example of a former large biopharma company CEO shifting gear to a seat at a smaller company’s boardroom. Most recently, after selling Celgene to Bristol Myers Squibb for $74 billion, former CEO Mark Alles became an independent director at Chinese firm Antengene run by his former Celgene colleague Jay Mei. Ex-Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt joined the board of Alnylam after signing over the reins to Paul Hudson.