Neurocrine, a regular name on Wall Street's M&A lists, elevates BD chief to succeed founder and CEO

Neurocrine Biosciences’ dealmaking prospects may soon get another round of attention with the installment of a new CEO. 

More than three decades after founding Neurocrine in 1992, Kevin Gorman, Ph.D., will retire as the neuroscience specialist’s CEO, the company said Tuesday. Effective October 11, the biotech’s current chief business development and strategy officer, Kyle Gano, Ph.D., will take over the reins as the new CEO.

Gorman, who has been Neurocrine’s CEO since 2008, worked the company to the commercial stage in 2017 with the FDA approval of Ingrezza. With indications in tardive dyskinesia and involuntary movements in Huntington’s disease, Ingrezza is today a fast-growing blockbuster with sales expected to surpass $2 billion this year.

The paucity of commercial-stage neuroscience biotechs has made Neurocrine a regular name on Wall Street’s M&A watch lists. The revenue stream from Igrezza means Neurocrine has the firepower to buy things for itself, and a fast-growing product would give any larger buyer an immediate top-line boost.

An IPO in 1996 helped Neurocrine raise $34 million, and today, the California biotech carries a market value of about $13.5 billion.

The closest Neurocrine has come to being bought out likely happened in 2019. That year, Michel Vounatsos, then CEO at fellow neuroscience giant Biogen, planned to take over Neurocrine to ease the potential risk of what would later become the ill-fated Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm, Stat reported earlier. Vounatsos rallied support from the entire Biogen exec team, but the plan was shot down by the company’s board.

Biogen likely isn’t targeting any major neuroscience purchases these days, as new CEO Chris Viehbacher focuses more on immunology rather than the risky field of neurology.

Neurocrine actually partnered up on its second commercial product, endometriosis therapy Orilissa, which it licensed to AbbVie in 2010. The following year, Gano, who originally joined in 2001 in a market research and analytics capacity, became Neurocrine’s chief business development officer.

Business development has yielded success at Neurocrine but also brought the company’s most dramatic setback. Back in 2006, Neurocrine’s stock price crashed below its IPO price after Pfizer walked out on a partnership following an FDA rejection of the former partners’ investigational insomnia drug, indiplon.

Last year, Neurocrine returned the North American rights to the struggling Parkinson’s disease med Ongentys to its licenser, Portuguese company Bial. Neurocrine paid $30 million upfront for the COMT inhibitor in 2017. And after an approval in April 2020, the drug couldn’t attract enough traction.

Today, partnerships remain a key element in Neurocrine’s business. The company has a multi-candidate collaboration with Takeda. One of the programs failed in a phase 2 trial last year in patients with anhedonia in major depressive disorder (MDD), while another recently delivered a positive mid-stage trial readout in adjunctive MDD.

Other than that, Neurocrine has tapped Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma to run Ingrezza in Japan. It also boasts a sodium channel inhibitor pact with Xenon Pharmaceuticals and a gene therapy collaboration with Voyager Therapeutics. Further, the company bought a calcium channel blocker from Idorsia.

Neurocrine is also working with Nxera Pharma, previously known as Sosei Heptares, to develop muscarinic receptor agonists for a range of neurological disorders.

As Gorman put it in a Tuesday statement, now is “the right time to initiate this well-planned leadership transition.” He praised Gano for being instrumental in Neurocrine’s success and an “exceptional leader” of the organization.

Gano is the lead inventor on the patent to the valbenazine molecule that forms Ingrezza. Besides the licensing deals mentioned above, Gano also oversaw the 2022 acquisition of Diurnal Group, which gave Neurocrine a pipeline targeting chronic endocrine conditions and a presence in Europe.

A top priority at Neurocrine these days is crinecerfont, for which the company recently completed FDA submissions for the treatment of pediatric and adult patients with classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia. The company has already started building a commercial team around the drug, even though it expects the FDA will ask for an advisory committee meeting.

Gorman will continue to serve on Neuroncrine’s board, on which Gano has been named a new member.