RARE Daily

Shake-up at Ionis-Owned Akcea Removes Top Execs

September 23, 2019

Rare Daily Staff

Photo: Damien McDevitt, interim CEO of Akcea Therapeutics

Akcea Therapeutics, a majority-owned affiliate of Ionis Pharmaceuticals, said its board of directors has appointed Damien McDevitt, a member of its board of directors, as interim chief executive officer, effective immediately.

Akcea CEO Paula Soteropoulos, President Sarah Boyce, and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Goldberg are no longer with the company. Soteropoulos and Boyce have also resigned from the Akcea board.

The company added Michael Yang, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Acadia, and Joseph “Skip” Klein III, a member of the Ionis board since December 2005 and a founder and managing director of financial consulting and investment advisory firm Gauss Capital Advisors, as new board members.

The company did not provide an explanation for the shake-up. Akcea is trading near its 52-week low at $17.23, less than half its high of $37.73.

In 2018, it won approval for Tegsedi to treat hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis (hATTR), a rare and fatal disease that affects multiple organs. But the company had a regulatory stumble in 2018 when it failed to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for Waylivra, its treatment for familial chylomicronemia syndrome (FCS), an ultra-rare and potentially fatal disease in which patients cannot metabolize triglyceride-rich lipid particles called chylomicrons due to a deficiency in the enzyme lipoprotein lipase. The European Commission approved Waylivra in 2019.

“We remain highly committed to the continued success of Akcea as an important affiliate to commercialize medicines for patients with rare diseases,” said Stanley Crooke, chairman and CEO of Ionis, who thanked the outgoing executives for building Akcea’s commercial organization. “We plan to increase our commitment to Akcea by licensing to it additional rare disease medicines.”

McDevitt joins Akcea from Ionis Pharmaceuticals, where he was the chief business officer responsible for leading Ionis’ corporate development activities, including corporate communications, investor relations, business development, competitive intelligence and alliance management. He currently serves on the Akcea board of directors and will remain on the board. 

Prior to joining Ionis, he served as senior vice president, corporate development at Acadia Pharmaceuticals. Prior to joining Acadia, McDevitt was at GlaxoSmithKline for more than two decades where he was instrumental in executing more than 70 global business development transactions in multiple therapeutic areas, including severe, rare and neuromuscular diseases.

At GSK he served in various roles with increasing responsibility including vice president, head of business development for R&D Extended Therapy Areas, head of Worldwide Business Development Asia and head of GSK’s R&D West Coast Innovation Center. He also worked at GSK Ventures and in anti-infective discovery. McDevitt is an author of 70 scientific publications and published patents. He attended Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where he earned his Ph.D. and undergraduate degree, both in microbiology.

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