Alnylam’s CEO to Step Down at Year-End; Shares Slide
(Bloomberg) -- Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Maraganore, a legend in the biotech industry, will step down from his post at year-end to be succeeded by Chief Operating Officer Yvonne Greenstreet. The shares fell the most in three years.
Maraganore, 59, has led Alnylam since its founding in 2002. Under his leadership, the company turned a Nobel Prize-winning concept called RNA interference, or RNAi, into approved treatments for rare and deadly genetic conditions. Shares of Alnylam slid as much as 18%, their biggest intraday loss since April 2018, after gaining 47% this year through Wednesday.
Investors are bracing for Alnylam’s first new chief executive in its nearly two-decade history. Maraganore oversaw Alnylam at every step of its journey, serving as a stable and visionary leader while the company created a new class of treatments that turn off specific genes involved in disease. Alnylam’s Onpattro was approved in the U.S. in 2018, the first treatment of its kind.
In an interview, Maraganore called the stock move an overreaction, saying Alnylam “could not be in a stronger position.”
“There’s never a perfect time to do it,” he said. “Where we have a really promising blueprint for where we’re going over the next five years, where we have a successor who’s remarkable and amazing in so many ways, that makes it a good time to do a transition like this.”
Before coming to Alnylam, Maraganore was senior vice president of strategic product development at Millenium Pharmaceuticals Inc., and earlier worked at Biogen Inc. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is viewed as a success story in biotech, an industry where even the most promising scientific ideas don’t always result in approved medicines. It’s based in Kendall Square, the epicenter of the area’s vibrant biotechnology ecosystem.
The company’s technology is based on work showing how certain molecules can block RNA, a cellular messenger that contains instructions for making proteins. The discovery of RNAi’s power was recognized in 2006 by a Nobel Prize for two researchers, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello.
Greenstreet, 59, will take over as the company focuses on the advancement of RNAi in new therapeutic areas. She joined Alnylam as COO in 2016 after previously serving as a senior executive at Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc with roles in research, development and strategy.
She was not an “easy catch,” Maraganore said, meaning he had to work hard to recruit her. He praised her experience and ability to lead and grow large complex biopharmaceutical companies. She’s also a physician, making her the right person to take the baton at Alnylam, Maraganore said.
As for her immediate priorities, Greenstreet said she’s focused on executing the 20-year roadmap she and Maraganore created at the start of the year.
“I genuinely believe the best days are ahead of us,” she said. “We’re going to change the face of medicine, no doubt.”
Greenstreet, who is Black, will become the second woman to lead one of the 16 companies in the XBI — the SPDR S&P Biotech exchange-traded fund of industry stocks — with a market cap over $10 billion. She will also join Alnylam’s board.
Maraganore will consult for Alnylam through the first quarter of 2022 and join the company’s scientific advisory board. He hasn’t decided all the details of his next chapter, though he plans to help new companies and mentor young CEOs.
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