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10 Pharma Movers And Shakers Who Stood Out In 2015

This article was originally published in Scrip

Executive Summary

Who were the individuals who dominated pharma industry headlines in 2015? Who achieved great things and reflected glory on the sector, and who cast a dark shadow? Here Scrip casts its eyes over the year's dramatis personae.

Number One

First up is Ian Read, Pfizer Inc.'s CEO, who sealed his reputation as one of the great deal-makers of the pharmaceutical industry when he launched a $160bn bid for Allergan in November, the largest in health care history.

Pfizer CEO, Ian Read

Pfizer is a company built on acquisitions and mergers stretching back decades, and Read could so easily have been disheartened when its $100bn bid for AstraZeneca PLC hit the rocks in 2014 amid harsh criticism of the potential tie-up from the UK's political/business establishment. But the quietly spoken Read persevered with the M&A strategy and, as a chartered accountant, must be particularly pleased with the tax savings likely to be associated with a merger with Dublin, Ireland-based Allergan PLC. The Allergan deal may well be Read's crowning achievement before retirement, but don't rule out further moves just yet. He has shown he is a master of the art of unexpected and audacious corporate maneuvers.

Number Two

Read's counterpart at Allergan PLC, CEO Brent Saunders, soon-to-be president and chief operating officer of Pfizer Inc., arguably had the best year of anyone in biopharma in 2015 and joins our line-up of movers and shakers. When his company was still known as Actavis PLC, Saunders got to play the hero by rescuing Allergan from a hostile takeover attempt by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. And after Actavis closed the $66bn acquisition and changed its name to Allergan, Saunders boldly agreed to sell the company's generics business – the legacy business of Actavis and its predecessor Watson Pharmaceuticals – to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. for $40.5bn. The two transactions gave Allergan a singular focus on brand name drugs, including blockbusters like Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) and Restasis (cyclosporine), and set the company up for acquisition by a major pharma. Within four months, Saunders more than doubled his two-year, $152bn deal-making tally when Allergan and Pfizer revealed their plans for a $160bn merger.

Number Three

Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc., has spent much time in the limelight too, and only partly thanks to his firm's pursuit of acquisitions. The company lurched out of the long drawn-out, vituperative and ultimately futile hostile bid for Allergan in late 2014 but less than a year later it stumbled into fresh controversy over its dealings with specialty pharmacies, and the pricing of its drugs. For the man who told Scrip in early 2014 that he was aiming to make his company "one of the top five most valuable pharmaceutical companies by the end of 2016" with a market cap of around $150bn, the drop in Valeant's market cap from nearly $50bn at the beginning of 2015 to less than $35bn as of Dec. 29, 2015 after it peaked at $89bn in August will be particularly painful. But Pearson needs to prioritize his own health over that of his company: Valeant announced on Dec. 28 that the CEO role would be covered by a triumvirate of executives following Pearson's hospitalization with severe pneumonia. The news triggered another 10% share price drop.

Valeant CEO, Michael Pearson

Number Four

No list of pharma headline-makers in 2015 could omit Martin Shkreli, whose audacious exploits in price-hiking and alleged fraudulent activities have done far more than merely wreak havoc at firms he has helmed, namely Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Retrophin Inc. The controversy around the price rise for Daraprim generated a political storm and triggered a broader investigation into drug pricing in the US that will carry on into 2016. The chairman of PhRMA branded Shkreli an "aberration." Say no more.

Number Five

In contrast to those who have might be viewed as the sector's pantomime villains – or rather its whipping boys, depending on your perspective – stands David Pyott, fomer CEO of Allergan. He fended off a hostile acquirer and then did the best for shareholders by completing the sale of his company to Actavis earlier this year. He handled the pursuit by Valeant and the following acquisition with grace. Unlike some CEOs, he didn't resort to name-calling or bad behavior during the back and forth with Valeant – although he did continue to push for an investigation into possible breaches of securities regulations during the takeover bid by Valeant and its hedge fund backer, Bill Ackman's Pershing Square. Once recognized by the Harvard Business Review as one of the world's 100 best performing CEOs, Pyott stood down from Allergan after it was bought by Actavis. His latest board appointment was to Alynlam Pharmaceuticals, Inc, announced Dec. 18.

Number Six

Christopher Viehbacher went through a very public firing by the Sanofi board of directors in October 2014 and slowly, but not necessarily quietly, re-emerged in 2015 with various new roles in the biotechnology world, ushering start-ups and pre-commercial companies through the drug development process. Viehbacher's first new role announced in February was a seat on the board of directors for Boston-based PureTech, which incubates new technology and spins it out in new companies. By June, he was named managing director of Gurnet Point Capital, a $2bn fund focused on life science and health care investments. Gurnet Point invested $600m to get Boston Pharmaceuticals going in November, naming Viehbacher chairman of the company, which will acquire drug candidates from other companies, de-risk the assets through R&D, then sell or find a partner for each program.

Number Seven

Robert Califf and Margaret Hamburg share their place in the Scrip Mover and Shaker list.

Robert Califf, FDA's commissioner in waiting

Even before Califf, a former Duke University professor and researcher, had joined the FDA in early 2015, he'd long been rumored to be in line to take the reins at the agency – a buzz that started before President Barack Obama selected Hamburg, who was installed into the job in 2009. Hamburg, a former commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she helped to curb the spread of tuberculosis, was only the second women to lead the FDA and the first African-American women to hold the title of commissioner, a job she left in early April. While Califf is expected to be confirmed in January after getting an easy pass at a November Senate hearing, there have been some critics who have charged he's too well connected to the drug and device industries. Others, however, have called Califf the disruptor the FDA needs and someone well-suited to lead the agency as it struggles with regulating ever-increasingly complex therapies.

Margaret Hamburg, former head of the FDA

Number Eight

Almost a year after being ousted as executive director of the European Medicines Agency, Guido Rasi bounced back into the job after running the full EU recruitment gauntlet for a second time.

Guido Rasi, reinstated EMA executive director

Rasi had to step down in November 2014 after a disgruntled co-candidate for the job, Emil Hristov, complained that the procedure used to select Rasi in 2011 was marred by conflicts of interest. The EU's civil service tribunal agreed, so Rasi had to go. But he was kept on at the EMA in the specially created position of principal adviser in charge of strategy, and when the European Commission advertised the position vacant, he re-applied and fought off 35 other hopefuls to get his job back. Not only that, as it was a fresh recruitment process complete with a second grilling by the European Parliament, he got it for another five years, on top of the three he had served before his untimely demotion. Now there's a lesson in tenacity – and, for the complainant, in being careful what you wish for.

Number Nine

In a year when cancer breakthroughs dominated the news, Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA's Office of Oncology and Hematology Products, has to feature in any list of key movers and shakers.

Ri chard Pazdur

Over much of the previous decade, Pazdur, who joined the FDA in 1999 after spending many years at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, was ridiculed for rejecting cancer drugs – called a ""Dr. No," a "one-man death panel" and even a "murderer by some critics and hotheaded patient advocates. In the past year, however, Pazdur and his team of 150 oncologists, toxicologists and other specialists have been highly praised for facilitating rapid development of cancer medicines and approving numerous products well-ahead of their user fee action dates, particularly treatments for non-small-cell lung cancer. Pazdur, who recently lost his wife to ovarian cancer, said in November it's time for the big question to be answered of whether survival or time-to-progression should be used to approve oncology medicines.

Number Ten

Over in India, Sun Pharma's billionaire boss Dilip Shanghvi was clearly among the top newsmakers in 2015. From the closure of the merger with the troubled Ranbaxy and handling plant compliance issues to making a string of niche buys including the US ophthalmology firm InSite Vision and GSK's opiates business in Australia, the unassuming Shanghvi has rarely been off the radar of both news-hounds and investors. He also invested in the Indian wind turbine maker Suzlon Energy in his personal capacity during the year. And if market watchers are to be believed Shanghvi isn't done yet: Long listed meds in Japan are believed to be on the canny businessman's watch list; subsidiary Taro, sitting on a cash pile of $1bn, has been candid about its intent to evaluate the right acquisitions and there's a lot riding on Sun's late stage asset for chronic plaque psoriasis, tildrakizumab, acquired from Merck & Co. Meanwhile, it's always useful to have mega deal maker and Teva's former CEO Israel Makov as Sun's chair. All in all 2016 looks exciting.

Dilip Shanghvi, f ounder of Sun Pharma






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