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3 Akcea execs, including CEO, leave in a ‘disconcerting surprise’

  • Akcea Therapeutics’ CEO, chief operations officer and president have all left the company, in a leadership shake-up that is effective immediately, the biotech disclosed Monday.
  • Ionis Pharmaceuticals, a California-based biotech, created Akcea as a Boston affiliate focused on rare diseases. Ionis owns about three-quarters of Akcea, which will now be led by interim CEO Damien McDevitt.
  • The company declined to provide reasons for the immediacy in the change when asked by BioPharma Dive. Akcea shares sunk more than 20% Monday morning, reflecting a market value loss of about $400 million.

Paula Soteropoulos’ tenure as Akcea CEO has concluded after leading the Ionis spinout since 2015 into a public, commercial-stage company.

Also departing is Sarah Boyce, Akcea’s president, and Jeffrey Goldberg, chief operating officer.

McDevitt, the newly tapped interim CEO, joined Ionis as chief business officer slightly more than a year ago. He’s been on Akcea’s board since October 2018 and has previous industry experience at Acadia Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline.

Paul Matteis, a biotech analyst at Stifel, predicted in a Monday note that investors will view the management change “as a disconcerting surprise as the company is in the midst of two commercial product launches.”

“It’s hard to see this abrupt transition as not being disruptive to the ongoing Tegsedi launch specifically, as Ionis/Akcea are competing in a crowded market that includes both Alnylam and Pfizer,” Matteis added.

In fact, a recent SVB Leerink physician survey found doctors “strongly favor” Alnylam’s Onpattro (patisiran) over Tegsedi (inotersen) to treat hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis.

The company said the changes will help the launches of Tegsedi and Akcea’s other commercialized drug, Waylivra (volanesorsen). While Tegsedi finds itself in a competitive rare disease market, Waylivra has struggled to convince regulators of its risk-benefit profile, with the Food and Drug Administration rejecting the drug’s application last year. Waylivra has been approved in the European Union.

Ionis plans to license more antisense drugs to Akcea, the biotech said in its release without providing further specifics.

The shake-up will trigger some significant severance payments for the outgoing executives, using estimates from base salaries disclosed in the company’s latest proxy statement. Soteropoulos stands to take home about $9.3 million, while the company will pay Boyce about $5.8 million and Goldberg approximately $4.9 million.

Soteropoulos and Boyce also resigned from their Akcea board seats, replaced by Michael Yang, a former Acadia and Janssen executive, and Joseph Klein, a long-time Ionis director.