Departure of ’String of Pearls’ Strategist Leaves Gap at Bristol-Myers

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) faces a tough task in replacing the senior executive who has driven the drugmaker’s “string of pearls” acquisition strategy since 2007, analysts and industry officials said.

Jeremy Levin, 58, Bristol’s senior vice president of strategy, alliances and transactions, left the New York-based drugmaker on Jan. 1 to become chief executive officer of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA), the Petach Tikva, Israel-based company said yesterday in a statement.

Bristol made 17 acquisitions over four years with Levin, including the 2009 purchase of Medarex Inc., which gained the company the Yervoy skin cancer drug. He’s considered the “number one person in business development” for the industry, said Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group in New York, said yesterday by telephone.

“A lot of companies say they want to acquire and license stuff, but I can’t think of a company that’s done it as successfully as Bristol,” Schoenebaum said.

Bristol shares (BMY) fell less than 1 percent to $35.01 at the close of New York trading.

For the time being, Bristol CEO Lamberto Andreotti will share the duties of Levin’s former job with Chief Scientific Officer Elliott Sigal, who held similar responsibilities at the company previously, said Jennifer Mauer, a Bristol spokeswoman, in a telephone interview yesterday.

“We have a very strong and experienced team, and business development remains a priority,” she said. “There is no change in our string of pearls strategy.”

Diversified Portfolio

The acquisition strategy was implemented in 2007 when now- Chairman James Cornelius was CEO. Its goal was to diversify the company’s drug portfolio with small- and mid-size acquisitions and partnerships before the drugmaker faced revenue decreases when its top-selling drugs, led by the blood thinner Plavix, lose U.S. patent protection.

If Levin can do the same things for his new company that he did for Bristol, “that will be very, very good for Teva,’ said Ori Hershkovitz, a Tel Aviv-based partner at Sphera Funds Management Ltd., by phone yesterday.

The South African-born Levin was global head of business development and strategic alliances at Novartis from 2003 to 2007. He has worked as a practicing physician and has a medical degree from the University of Cambridge in London and a doctorate from Oxford University in molecular biology.

Ron Cohen, the CEO of Acorda Therapeutics Inc., said that Levin has spent years as an investor, biotech company CEO and then at Bristol developing close, personal relationships across the industry that will be hard for anybody replicate.

They met in 1994, after both had gone after a job at Cadus Pharmaceuticals Corp., a biotechnology company now known as Cadus Corp., he said. Cohen thought he’d gotten the role. In fact, Levin wound up with the job, Cohen said by telephone.

Executive Dinner Meeting

They have remained friendly since, Cohen said, and are part of a group of about a dozen biotechnology executives and friends who meet at least once a year for dinner.

“He’s one of the most trustworthy people I’ve ever met,” Cohen said yesterday in a telephone interview. “If you’re talking about doing deals with someone, you want to do deals with somebody who’s smart and you can trust. He brings that to the table in spades.”

Recently Levin was implementing an initiative Bristol had dubbed its “Oyster Strategy.” Under that plan, the company handed off compounds it probably wouldn’t have developed itself to drugmakers in emerging markets, with agreements to split the sales should the products eventually get approved.

The plan was to “create an engine of innovation” in developing countries, Levin said by telephone last month. If the companies were successful in developing the compounds, “we’ll position ourselves as partners of choice,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Armstrong in Washington at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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