Ironwood swipes AZ commercial hotshot Mark Mallon to fill its CEO chair

Mallon will take the CEO's post at Ironwood and current Ironwood CEO Peter Hecht will helm new spinout Cyclerion. (Pixabay)

The first week of 2019 looks a lot like 2018 in at least one regard: A Big Pharma company’s commercial head is on the move.

Hitting the road this time is Mark Mallon, AstraZeneca’s EVP of global product and portfolio strategy, and he’ll be taking up the CEO baton at newly revamped Ironwood. Peter Hecht, Ironwood’s current CEO and founder, is leaving to head up Cyclerion, a company to be spun out of Ironwood’s R&D department later this year.

Gastrointestinal specialist Ironwood will be looking to Mallon to pump up sales of its already approved drugs; after all, activist investors convinced the company to jettison its R&D assets so it could focus more on doing just that. And Mallon will bring several years of industry experience to the job, including time spent building up AstraZeneca’s gastrointestinal franchise. As Ironwood pointed out, during Mallon’s time running GI for AstraZeneca, stomach drug Prilosec swelled by 35% and future blockbuster Nexium got its start on the market.

"Our European Pharma team that covers AstraZeneca speaks very highly" of Mallon, "finding him to be a very thoughtful leader and someone who they believe could have been a candidate to be the next CEO of Astra itself," Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan wrote in a Monday note to clients.

Mallon's success at AZ is the kind Ironwood is looking to replicate with constipation drug Linzess. But first, it’ll have to navigate pricing pressure that partner Allergan expects to whittle down its pricing power in the future.

RELATED: Now that Ironwood's spinning off R&D, activist Alex Denner is easing up

On the other side of the coin, Mallon’s exit is a loss for AstraZeneca, which has finally returned to growth after a big fall off the patent cliff. The company has some pretty big sales targets to meet, and it’ll have to do it without its commercial leader.

RELATED: How can Ironwood fix slowing Linzess sales? Ditch partner Allergan, analyst suggests

That’s a position a few of the British drugmaker’s peers also found themselves in last year. Amgen, for one, lost longtime marketing chief Tony Hooper to retirement, so it turned right back around and swiped Bristol-Myers Squibb’s top commercial dog, Murdo Gordon. Gilead Sciences poached Amgen executive Laura Hamill to fill its own top commercial position, along with Roche pharma chief Daniel O’Day, who will become the Big Biotech’s next CEO.