Former Teva CEO Levin to Lead Startup Focused on Brain Diseases

Jeremy Levin, who was ousted from running Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in 2013 after a disagreement with the board, has joined a small U.S. biotech startup focused on brain diseases.

Levin’s new company, closely held Ovid Therapeutics Inc., said today it will license a drug for two rare brain diseases from Copenhagen-based H. Lundbeck A/S, which becomes a shareholder as part of the accord. As chief executive officer, Levin intends to make New York-based Ovid a “pure-play neurology company,” he said in an interview.

“The pharma industry has chosen to downplay this area at a time when we have massive need and great advances in the scientific knowledge,” Levin said in a telephone interview. “This is quite reminiscent of what happened with cancer. There was little investment in this area in the early 2000s -- but then huge advances in research led to an explosion of pharma interest in cancer.”

The new job is a change of pace for Levin, who spent the past decade as an executive at Novartis AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Teva. At Bristol-Myers, he helped oversee the company’s “string of pearls” policy of partnerships and smaller acquisitions to replace the loss of revenue when Plavix, a blood thinner, faced generic competition.

Levin said his business development strategy at Bristol -- and to a certain degree at Teva, where he pushed the generic drugmaker to focus on neurology treatments -- will be employed at Ovid, though on a much smaller scale.

“Expect us to do more licensing agreements focused initially on orphan and rare diseases,” he said. “We also have our own in-house research and development, and as we grow, we will acquire outright products that are of value.”

Levin, a Cambridge University-educated physician, joined Israel-based Teva as CEO with a reputation as a top industry deal maker. A rift over the company’s future, with a board led at the time by billionaire Phillip Frost, led to Levin’s ouster just 18 months later.

In the agreement with Lundbeck, Ovid gets exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize Gaboxadol, or OV101, for two rare brain diseases, Angelman syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

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