Vertex’s Kewalramani to Replace Leiden as CEO

July 26, 2019

Vertex’s Chief Medical Officer Reshma Kewalramani has been named as successor to current CEO Jeffrey Leiden when he leaves his current role to become executive chairman of the board April 1, 2020.

Kewalramani will be the first woman to run one of the big biotechnology companies.

“The Board has been working with Jeff for several years to plan for a smooth and effective leadership transition that will ensure strategic and operational continuity for Vertex,” said Bruce Sachs, lead independent director of Vertex’s board. “[Kewalramani] is an accomplished scientist and physician with more than 20 years of experience in medicine and biotechnology and has a deep understanding and appreciation of Vertex’s strategy, business and culture.”

Leiden praised Kewalramani as a “strong, collaborative leader” with a track recording of “driving innovation to have a transformative impact on patients’ lives.”

Kewalramani joined Vertex in February 2017 and currently serves as the company’s executive vice president, Global Medicines Development and Medical Affairs, and chief medical officer. In this role, she oversees clinical development, medical affairs, drug safety and other related functions, and is responsible for developing, advising and driving execution of Vertex’s clinical development programs.

Prior to Vertex, Kewalramani spent more than 12 years at Amgen where she held a variety of R&D roles, including as vice president, Global Clinical Development, Nephrology & Metabolic Therapeutic Area and vice president, U.S. Medical Organization, a group she established, and grew to assume responsibility for the full portfolio of molecules across six therapeutic areas.

Kewalramani’s education includes a medical degree with honors from the Boston University School of Medicine, an internship and residency in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and a fellowship in nephrology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital combined program. Kewalramani also completed the General Management Program at Harvard Business School. She is the industry representative to the FDA’s Endocrine and Metabolic Drug Advisory Committee.

Vertex is best known for its three approved medicines that treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis – a rare, life-threatening genetic disease — and it has several ongoing clinical and research programs in that disease. Beyond cystic fibrosis, Vertex’s pipeline of investigational medicines includes treatments for other serious diseases such as sickle cell disease, beta thalassemia, pain, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and APOL1-mediated kidney disease.

Wall Street analysts had expected Leiden to remain CEO for a few more years as the company diversifies its pipeline and makes a foray into gene editing technologies.  They were uneasy about the news and concerned that Kewalramani may not be up to the task.

Vertex has moved to reassure them according to a news report by John Carroll in Endpoints. Carroll cites a note from SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges claiming that the Vertex board had asked Leiden to continue to have lead responsibility in four areas: Business Development, Investor Relations, Government Affairs, and the company’s new Genetic Therapies Research Unit in Boston.

Photo: Vertex’s Chief Medical Officer Reshma Kewalramani, who will become the company’s CEO April 1, 2020.

Author: Rare Daily Staff

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