Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. will replace its top researcher with a physician and former medical school professor who has worked in pharmaceutical industry research for more than two decades.
Dr. Francis Cuss, 58, will become the New York-based drugmaker's executive vice president and chief scientific officer on July 1.
Lamberto Andreotti, Bristol's chief executive, called Cuss a "strong and collaborative leader with broad experience in both discovery and development."
The company said that Dr. Elliot Sigal, 61, will step down as both chief scientific officer and a member of Bristol's board of directors on June 30. The two men will work together until then.
The change follows similar moves at a couple of competitors recently.
Cuss joined Bristol-Myers in 2003 as senior vice president for drug discovery and became a member of its senior management team in 2010. Bristol said Cuss has overseen development of its early and mid-stage pipeline, including drugs for hepatitis C, cancer and immune disorders.
The company said he has increased research output without increasing spending and successfully integrated three drug development businesses that Bristol acquired.
Prior to 2003, Cuss spent 14 years at Schering-Plough Corp. — now part of Merck & Co. — plus three years at Britain's GlaxoSmithKline PLC, working as an executive in drug discovery, clinical research and medical affairs in the U.S. and Europe. Before that, he was a practicing physician and held several academic appointments, including as adjunct associate professor at Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Sigal joined Bristol-Myers in 1997 and worked his way up to become chief scientific officer and head of R&D in 2004.
Sigal helped execute the company's strategy of divesting noncore businesses and focusing on development of biologic medicines produced in living cells, doing so through a combination of internal drug development, targeted acquisitions and licensing deals.
Not all those deals paid off, though.
In its biggest disappointment, last August the company said it was taking a $1.8 billion charge related to a failed hepatitis C drug — following the death of a patient in a mid-stage clinical test. Bristol had gambled about $2.5 billion to buy Inhibitex Inc., the company that discovered the drug, earlier in 2012.
Hepatitis C medicines are seen as a crucial growth area because many baby boomers infected with the virus decades ago are just now being diagnosed. Until recently, the treatments cured barely half of patients, and flu-like symptoms and other side effects kept many patients from enduring the months-long treatments.
Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers has been hurt by patent expirations for its top-selling drugs, particularly blood thinner Plavix, which was the world's second-best-selling drug until last May, and blood pressure drugs Avapro and Avalide. Like many other drugmakers, it's been having trouble coming up with enough new drugs to replace that lost revenue.
Bristol's move follows a bit of musical chairs among research directors at major U.S. drugmakers.
Last month, Merck & Co. said it was replacing Peter S. Kim, 55, who had overseen Merck Research Laboratories since 2003. Kim is to leave on Aug. 1, when he'll be succeeded by Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, a former research executive at both Merck and at Amgen Inc.
Amgen, the world's biggest biotech drugmaker, replaced Perlmutter in February 2012. Perlmutter, 60, had directed research at the Thousand Oaks, Calif., company since January 2001.
Sean Harper, who had been Amgen's chief medical officer and head of global development, took over the top research job there in February 2012. That followed a restructuring and layoffs within Amgen's research operations.
Follow Linda A. Johnson at http://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma