Bristol Acquisition Plans Remain Intact After Levin’s Loss

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s “string of pearls” strategy of acquisitions and partnerships will remain in place even after the loss of the executive who was most responsible for implementing it, the drugmaker said.

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

For the time being, Bristol CEO Lamberto Andreotti will share the duties of Levin’s former job with Chief Scientific Officer Elliott Sigal, who has held similar responsibilities, Jennifer Mauer, a Bristol spokeswoman, said today. Whoever gets the job has big shoes to fill, said Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group.

“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, based in New York, said in a telephone interview. Levin “is thought of as the number one person in business development.”

Levin had been with Bristol since 2007, around the time when now-Chairman James Cornelius, as CEO, implemented a strategy involving small- and mid-size acquisitions and partnerships that Cornelius said then would develop into a “string of pearls” for the company.

Diversified Portfolio

The plan was created as a way to diversify the company’s drug portfolio as it was facing revenue decreases from Plavix, a blood thinner with $6.67 billion in 2010 sales, and other top-selling drugs.

The strategy has resulted in 17 transactions, Mauer said, the largest being the acquisition of Medarex in 2009 for $2.3 billion. While Bristol isn’t ready to announce a replacement, the string of pearls strategy remains in place, Mauer said.

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

More 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.

‘Engine of Innovation’

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

Ron Cohen, CEO of Acorda Theraputics 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.

Cohen met Levin 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.

They have remained friendly, Cohen said, and are part of a group of just over 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. “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.”

Cohen said Teva may have turned to Levin “to take the company in new directions. He’s incredibly imaginative and very creative about how to grow a business with partnerships and deals.”

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