Ex-Pfizer chief takes over at troubled Optimer

Ex-Pfizer chief takes over at troubled Optimer
Ex-Pfizer chief takes over at troubled Optimer

Remember Hank McKinnell? McKinnell was among the key architects of the griffin-like corporate behemoth that is the modern Pfizer, a massive—some would say unsustainably so—biopharma juggernaut born of a decade of super-duper-mega-mergers, with Warner-Lambert in 2000, Pharmacia in 2003 and Wyeth in 2009. McKinnell's ascension to CEO in 2001 came in the wake of the Warner-Lambert acquisition, and Pfizer had scarcely swallowed that one before McKinnell engineered the acquisition of Pharmacia. Shortly thereafter, he reportedly drifted away from day-to-day management of the company and stepped down as CEO in July 2006—or, if you prefer, floated down to 42nd Street on a $188 million golden parachute. Some shareholders, galled by the stock's poor performance under McKinnell, flew an airplane toting a banner reading “Give it back, Hank!” over the company's 2006 annual meeting.

So where is he now? Surely, sunning himself on his own private Caribbean island, as we might be this time of year were the wages of journalism so generous? No? Really? Oh, hey, there he is, taking the reins at Optimer, a troubled Jersey City firm whose sole in-line product, antibiotic Dificid, has not fared as well as hoped since its US commercial launch last year, and whose most recent CEO, Pedro Lichtinger, is departing amidst a compliance and conflict-of-interest scandal.

McKinnell's not new to the company—he took over as board chairman in April of last year. His predecessor in that role was shown the door in the wake of a dodgy stock deal, along with the then-CFO (meanwhile, the company's stock slid 25% as Dificid failed to gain much traction, in part because of its eye-popping price point).

Ironically, McKinnell's task may be to sell Optimer back to his old employer. The company announced plans to explore “strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value,” which analysts take to be a euphemism for a sale.

Pfizer seems a likely buyer, given its deep pockets and rich legacy in anti-infectives. Astellas, which holds marketing rights for Dificid in Europe and Japan, is another, and Cubist, whose two-year US co-marketing deal with Optimer expires in July, could be a third contender.  

Editor's note: McKinnell does not, to our knowledge, actually own his own Caribbean island. But with that kind of money, he really oughta.

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