Ariad Said to Name Panayiotopoulos CEO After Activist Push

  • New chief is president of EMD Serono, unit of Germany's Merck
  • Investor Denner had pushed for ouster of current CEO Berger

Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc., a developer of blood and lung-cancer treatments, is set to name Paris Panayiotopoulos as chief executive officer, people familiar with the matter said. 

The move comes eight months after activist investor Alex Denner successfully pushed for the ouster of CEO Harvey Berger, the founder of the company.

The announcement will come as soon as Friday, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. A spokeswoman for Ariad declined to comment.

Panayiotopoulos is currently president of EMD Serono, a unit of German drugmaker Merck KGaA. He joined Serono in 2004 and served in positions including director of global marketing before being named president of the unit in 2013. He previously worked at Eli Lilly & Co. in the U.K. A press representative for Serono didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment after normal business hours.

Activist Fund Settlement

The plan to replace Berger is part of an April settlement with Denner’s Sarissa Capital Management, which agreed to withdraw candidates for Ariad’s board. Sarissa had argued that Berger’s contract shouldn’t have been renewed in October 2013, the same month the company suspended marketing of its key drug, the leukemia treatment Iclusig. Ariad shares plunged 66 percent in one day after U.S. regulators placed a hold on enrollment in all trials of the drug. 

The company resumed marketing of the drug in December of that year with revised safety information.

Drugmaker Baxalta Inc. had considered a plan to acquire Ariad that would have valued it at close to $2 billion, people familiar with the matter said in August. The negotiations soon broke down over price, the people said, as well as concerns about the prospect of a takeover of Ariad by some of its own investors.

Ariad shares have declined 9.4 percent this year. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company posted net losses of $177 million in the past four quarters on sales of $149 million. It currently has a market value of $1.18 billion.

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