J&J research vet Mathai Mammen a top contender in Biogen's hunt for a new CEO: Stat

After more than a year of tumult spurred by its disastrous Alzheimer's disease drug launch, Biogen may be closing in on new leadership.

The Boston-based biotech is strongly considering Theravance co-founder and former Johnson & Johnson R&D head Mathai Mammen, M.D., Ph.D., in its hunt for a new CEO, Stat news reports. The company reportedly wants to emphasize R&D bona fides in choosing its next leader after a period of commercial-focused leadership, Stat reports.

Biogen’s current CEO, Michel Vounatsos, ascended to the throne from his prior post as chief commercial officer in 2016. The company announced his impending departure in May, alongside news it would trim the sales team for troubled Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm and implement other cost-saving measures in a bid to save $1 billion annually.

Mammen, for his part, exited Johnson & Johnson in early August to "pursue other opportunities."

When asked for comment on the Mammen rumors, a Biogen spokesperson told Fierce Pharma the company’s CEO selection process is ongoing.

“[I]n the meantime, Michel Vounatsos and the leadership team are focused on delivering on the company’s mission and business priorities,” he added.

If Mammen does prove to be Biogen’s pick, more scientific direction from the top down could help rehabilitate the ailing big biotech, which has been forced to reckon with Aduhelm’s ill-fated launch for more than a year now.

That will be especially important as Biogen potentially gets a second bite at the Alzheimer’s apple, courtesy of strong new data from its partner Eisai’s drug lecanemab. That antibody is up for an accelerated approval decision in the U.S. in January.

Meanwhile, Stat reports the talks between Biogen and Mammen have reached a serious stage but have stopped short of a formal job offer, according to people close to the matter.

After leaving Theravance for a brief pit stop at Merck & Co., Mammen joined J&J in 2017, heading up research and development at J&J’s huge Janssen unit.

Among other accomplishments during his five-year tenure at the healthcare giant, Mammen oversaw J&J’s move into CAR-Ts, which yielded an approval for Legend Biotech-partnered Carvykti in myeloma earlier this year.

Alongside scientific know-how, Biogen investors seem hungry for business development acumen in their next leader, too, according to a recent RBC Capital Markets Survey.

The poll, which RBC published the same month Vounatsos’ departure was announced, found nearly 40% of stakeholders said they wanted a CEO with a strong track record in the field, either through in-licensing deals or acquisitions.