In transition and tumult, Seagen names former Novartis oncology chief Epstein as new CEO

Nearly seven months after Seagen was rocked by the domestic abuse arrest of founder, chairman and CEO Clay Siegall and his subsequent resignation, the powerhouse Seattle biotech has found its new leader.

The company’s board of directors has appointed oncology veteran David Epstein as its CEO. Epstein, 59, spent more than 25 years at Novartis, building its oncology business from “initiation to the second largest in the world,” Seagen said in a release.

Epstein served as CEO of Novartis Pharmaceuticals from 2010 to 2016 before becoming an executive partner at Boston venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering. He resigned from that position last month. Epstein also will serve on Seagen’s board.

Epstein takes over the 25-year-old company, formerly known as Seattle Genetics, which Siegall built into one of the world’s most successful biotechs.

“David’s demonstrated ability to build and scale a global oncology business, his experience in both large multi-faceted organizations and small biotechnology startups, combined with deep oncology knowledge, provide the strategic and operational expertise needed to lead Seagen to the next level,” Felix Baker, Ph.D., Seagen’s board chairman, said in a release.

An industry leader in antibody-drug conjugate research, Seagen has earned FDA approvals for three cancer treatments since 2019 after its first nod for Adcetris in 2011. Its rich pipeline includes 16 drugs, with trials underway in 42 indications.

The company also has begun construction of a 270,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in nearby Everett, Washington.

Along with the Epstein appointment, Seagen also said that Roger Dansey, M.D., who took over as interim CEO after Siegall's departure, will have a new position as president of research and development. Dansey will also retain his previous role as chief medical officer.

Soon after Siegall’s fall, the company was the subject of rumors of a possible sale to New Jersey pharma giant Merck. But those talks stalled because the companies couldn’t agree on a price, Bloomberg reported in August, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.

The deal was expected to come in at around $40 billion and would have been the industry’s largest since 2019. As the rumors of a merger flew in July, Seagen’s market cap topped out at more than $33 billion. The company's market value has since dropped to $25.6 billion.

For the third quarter, Seagen reported revenue of $510 million. The drugmaker is guiding to an annual figure between $1.82 and $1.86 billion.

“I have long admired Seagen as a leader in the development and commercialization of transformative cancer therapies,” said Epstein in the release, adding that he was attracted by the company’s “science-driven, patient-first culture.”

In May of 2016, Epstein had a stunning departure from Novartis as the Swiss pharma giant rejigged its business setup and sought a standalone unit for its oncology efforts. The decision left Epstein out of a role.

Epstein takes over as the company recovers from the downfall of Siegall. He was arrested after allegedly pushing his 46-year-old wife to the floor and dragging her, causing bruises and abrasions. He was charged with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault and spent 33 hours in jail. Siegall has denied the allegations.