Genentech makes a quick CEO switcheroo, with Clark out, Anderson in

Genentech, whose newest campus building is pictured here, is cycling commercial chief Bill Anderson into its CEO chair as of Jan. 1.

The CEO-replacement game continues in biopharma, and its latest round is playing out at Genentech. Roche’s U.S. unit has tapped insider Bill Anderson to replace 55-year-old Ian Clark, who’s retiring.

Anderson will take the helm Jan. 1, moving to the CEO role from his current job as North American commercial chief, which he’s held since July. Before that, he was SVP for the BioOncology business unit and head of global product strategy at Roche. He’s been at Genentech since 2006.

The Genentech switch follows a series of CEO moves in Big Pharma and Big Biotech. Lilly's longtime chief, John Lechleiter, retired, making way for SVP David Ricks to move up. Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Rebien Sorensen also retired, amid unprecedented payer pressure in diabetes; Novo's Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen takes his place Jan. 1. John Milligan took over at Gilead from longtime chief John Martin; George Scangos stepped down at Biogen, with his replacement as yet unnamed. And so on.

Like the other companies swapping chiefs, Genentech faces big changes ahead. Anderson’s job will be shepherding Genentech through a period when some of its biggest sellers in the U.S. will face biosimilar competition for the first time. That means building up newer drugs—such as breast cancer meds Perjeta and Kadcyla, blood cancer drug Gazyva, and particularly the PD-L1 immunotherapy Tecentriq—while shoring up its aging blockbusters as much as possible.

Roche expects Rituxan, its biggest-selling drug, to see biosimilars in the U.S. in 2019, for instance. Herceptin, one of Roche’s top three, is already fighting biosims in some overseas markets, but in the U.S., Genentech’s purview, that’s a few years off.

Clark is a 14-year Genentech vet and has been CEO since 2010, when Pascal Soriot jumped ship for the top job at AstraZeneca. Since Roche took control of Genentech in 2009, it has launched 15 medicines under Clark’s tutelage, the company said.

Anderson, meanwhile, has spent time in charge of promoting many of Genentech’s top meds, including Avastin, approved for colorectal and lung cancers, and breast cancer stalwart Herceptin. He also found time to talk up Genentech's "uncommon" culture and credit legendary CEO Art Levinson and his team for fostering it early on.

As immunology chief, Anderson ran with the blockbuster Rituxan in its rheumatoid arthritis market; later, in charge of BioOncology, he came up with promo plans and tactics for the same drug in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Before Genentech, Anderson was climbing the ladder at Biogen. His jobs there included VP of neurology and VP of finance and business planning, where he helped the company evaluate deals and, more notably, handled the integration of Biogen and Idec.

As an insider promoted to CEO, Anderson is among the majority when it comes to changes at the top in biopharma, Leerink Partners analyst Geoffrey Porges concluded after looking at 31 transitions at 17 companies. More than two-thirds (68%) of those changes brought insiders to the fore. That's not always to the good, however; companies needing a turnaround tend to appoint outsiders, and those CEOs historically have delivered bigger short-term returns than insiders overall.

The commercial path to the top is also common, even at drugmakers with a strong R&D history, with 26% of the transitions sourcing new CEOs from the commercial ranks. Only 13% of those new chiefs were promoted from the R&D organizations at their companies. Ricks, for one, rose up through Lilly's commercial ranks, and Bristol-Myers Squibb's relatively new chief, Giovanni Caforio, was chief commercial officer there before rising to COO and then CEO.

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