J&J vet Mammen wanted board influence to be Biogen's next CEO, but chairman said no: Stat

A top candidate to succeed Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos is reportedly out of the running.

Mathai Mammen, M.D., Ph.D., most recently head of R&D at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen pharma unit, is no longer being considered for Biogen’s top job, Stat reports, citing a person familiar with the situation.

Last month, the publication reported that Biogen was seriously considering Mammen as its new CEO, hoping to tap the J&J vet’s R&D acumen. But those discussions fell through after Mammen demanded influence over Biogen’s board to support his potential overhaul of the company, Stat now reports.

Biogen Chairman Stelios Papadopoulos rejected the request, and the two sides ended the talks, according to Stat.

Papadopoulos, 74, who has been heading up Biogen’s board since 2014, is nearing the company’s mandatory retirement age of 75 for directors. Another board member, Stephen Sherwin, M.D., a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and a venture partner with Third Rock Ventures, is also nearing the maximum age allowed.

Biogen revealed its plan to replace Vounatsos in May. As part of a $1 billion cost-saving scheme, Biogen disbanded its Aduhelm marketing team and started reexamining its R&D pipeline to potentially “accelerate, terminate, divest, or partner certain programs.”

Some pharma watchers praised Mammen as a potential Biogen CEO when Stat reported on the talks in October. For years, Biogen has been installing CEOs with commercial experience, but someone with R&D expertise such as Mammen could help the company regain balance amid the Aduhelm fallout and its multiple sclerosis sales decline.

In a survey BMO Capital Markets conducted last month, investors were “generally positive/supportive” about Mammen’s emergence as a topic pick for the CEO job. Roche’s pharma chief Bill Anderson was also floated as a good candidate for the role among survey responders. Roche last month just named its diagnostic head Thomas Schinecker to be the next group CEO.

But Mammen’s resume is not spotless. He was involved in a workplace discrimination lawsuit against J&J. Mammen abruptly left J&J in August after a five-year run, and J&J settled the case in September. Responders to BMO’s survey listed reputation, R&D background and being a Biogen outsider as key attributes for the CEO role.

Mammen became a top choice for the CEO role before a positive readout from Eisai-partnered Alzheimer’s disease candidate lecanemab, a proposed Aduhelm follow-on drug. Details of the phase 3 trial will be carefully examined at the upcoming Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Congress on Nov. 29.

Eisai is leading the charge on lecanemab, and it’s in a 50-50 profit-sharing agreement with Biogen. If the drug’s data survive scrutiny, commercialization could once again be a top priority at Biogen.