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Leiden reassures on key role at Vertex

Reshma Kewalramani to be new CEO, but Leiden will retain portfolio

vertex

Vertex has announced a 25% increase in Q2 revenues, with outgoing leader Jeff Leiden reassuring investors that he will retain a key role, despite handing over the CEO reins to Reshma Kewalramani.

The company's growth spurt is thanks to uptake of its new cystic fibrosis (CF) drugs, namely Symdeko/Symkevi, in the US and Germany. Its sales in the second quarter totalled $362, a doubling of revenues from the same period a year ago.

Jeff Leiden used a call with analysts to the discuss the leadership transition, after it was announced last week that he will hand over to Reshma Kewalramani, chief medical officer, from April 2020.

Jeff leiden

Jeff Leiden, CEO and President, Vertex

Leiden said that he would play "a continued active role in the company as executive chairman, supporting Reshma (Kewalramani) and Vertex's senior management team to a smooth transition up to Q1 of 2023

He also reassured any critics of the move that he will “maintain an active role in four areas of the company”. Leiden identified these as: “business development, helping to get deals done and secure our access to external innovation in products; building our new Boston research site dedicated to genetic therapies; investor relations and public affairs and government relations where I have established important relationships with state, federal and international levels over the last seven years.”

These remarks could help to ease doubts over the move, with Leiden very much still remaining in a leadership role, albeit one which is behind the scenes. The decision to stay an active part of the Vertex leadership team, according to Leiden, will be to aid the ‘smooth and undisrupted succession’ of the top job.

Under Leiden’s leadership, Vertex has gone from strength to strength since he took over the company in 2011. The company had been making losses for decades, but had won approval for its oral hepatitis C treatment Incivek (telaprevir) around this time, which became a blockbuster drug for the company.

Soon after followed the approval of the company's first CF treatment, Kalydeco, which signalled the beginning of a highly profitable franchise.

Kewalramani

CEO designate Reshma Kewalramani

Seven years later, and Vertex has just filed its CF triple therapy with the FDA, with promises that the treatment could treat 90% of all CF patients worldwide. However the high price of its treatments means Leiden and Vertex have been bedevilled by controversy, especially in Europe.

Public rows between NHS England, NICE and the pharma giant over the pricing of CF drug Orkambi has cast a negative light on Leiden’s legacy. The battle, which began when the drug was approved in 2015 and is still continuing, has lead to drastic action from access advocacy groups, with a patient-led buyers’ club recently set up to gain access through other means.

Kewalramani will face similar hurdles as CEO, most especially how to expand the company's portfolio beyond CF. William Blair analysts forecast that Vertex's CF franchise will peak at sales of $10.2bn, and the company is likely to face continuing issues around the pricing of its new therapies.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

1st August 2019

From: Sales

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