Shire CFO jumps ship as post-AbbVie deal talk heats up

Shire CEO Flemming Ornskov

Shire ($SHPG) is casting off on its own after AbbVie ($ABBV) pulled the plug on its $55 billion proposed deal. But the Dublin-based company is losing more than just a merger, as one of its top dogs is jumping ship and joining a U.K. water firm.

Shire's interim Chief Financial Officer James Bowling is quitting his current role and moving to the same position at Severn Trent, the London Evening Standard reports. The company said it would kick off its search for a new CFO "immediately."

"James has helped build and lead a high-quality finance team at Shire. We are very grateful to him for his interim leadership over the past seven months, and his many contributions to Shire in almost 10 years with the company. We wish him well in his future endeavors," CEO Flemming Ornskov said in a statement.

The news comes at a transitional moment for Shire, as the company is still reeling from its failed deal with Illinois-based AbbVie. Last week, AbbVie said it would recommend shareholders vote against the proposed merger, responding to new guidelines that make it more difficult for companies to shift their domicile abroad for tax-paying purposes. Moving to the U.K. would have slashed AbbVie's tax rate from 22% to 13%, saving the company an estimated $1.3 billion by 2020. The company planned to use offshore cash to finance the deal, but under Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's new guidelines, AbbVie would not be able to do so tax-free.

Now, with a potential $1.64 billion breakup fee in tow, Shire could pick things up where it left off pre-AbbVie and embark on a shopping spree of its own. Ornskov has racked up a string of acquisitions since taking helm of the company last year, including a $4.2 billion purchase of ViroPharma. In June, rumors emerged that Shire was preparing a 10-figure bid for rare disease outfit NPS Pharma ($NPSP), and now that deal could be back on the table, according to the London Evening Standard story.

"Including the potential break fee from AbbVie, Shire could be even more favorably positioned to execute its own acquisition strategy," Jeffries analyst Peter Welford said (as quoted by the London Evening Standard).

But a failed deal with AbbVie could also open the door to other takeover offers, too--including a bid from another Big Pharma heavyweight. As TheStreet's Richard Saintvilius says, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) could emerge as a potential suitor for the Irish drugmaker. Shire would bring its neuroscience and gastrointestinal know-how to the partnership, and BMS could shake up its aging drug portfolio. Saintvilius' advice to Bristol-Myers? Strike while the iron is hot.

- here's Shire's statement
- read the London Evening Standard story
- get more from The Telegraph
- get more from TheStreet