Gilead Taps Roche Veteran Daniel O’Day as New CEO

researcher in Gilead lab coat with a pipette

Shares of Gilead Sciences are up about 2 percent in premarket trading after the company officially announced that long-time Roche veteran, Daniel O’Day, will assume the helm of the company as chairman and chief executive officer beginning March 1.

O’Day will take over the reins of the Foster City, Calif.-based company from John Milligan, who announced in July that he planned to step down from his role by the end of the year. Milligan served 28 years with the company and oversaw the development of a virtual cure for hepatitis C with Harvoni and Sovaldi, as well as the development of significant treatments for HIV. Also, under Milligan’s leadership, Gilead Sciences carved its way into the immuno-oncology space with the $12 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma and its CAR-T treatment.

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O’Day currently serves as CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals. He has been in that role since 2012. Prior to that, he led Roche Diagnostics. With his vast experience at the Swiss pharma giant, O’Day will be well-positioned to lead Gilead. In the interim between Milligan’s departure and O’Day’s joining the company, Greg Alton, the company’s chief patent officer, will serve as interim-CEO.

John Martin, the chairman of Gilead’s board of directors who is also stepping down, said that O’Day is uniquely qualified to lead Gilead. Pointing at O’Day’s long career, Martin, who will step down from the Board on March 1, said he has a track record of success in therapeutic areas, as well as a “deep understanding of the evolving healthcare environment around the world.”

“Additionally, Dan brings expertise and values that are aligned with our organization, and I, along with Gilead’s entire Board, am confident in his ability to work alongside our talented leadership team and deliver on our ambitious goals,” Martin said of O’Day.

O’Day joined Roche in 1987 and has held leadership roles in multiple areas of the company. He will step down from the company at the end of the year, but will continue to assist Roche and Bill Anderson, the CEO of Genentech, a Roche subsidiary, who will take over as the head of Roche Pharmaceuticals in March.

While Gilead has a strong pipeline of drugs, one of the areas that O’Day will have to focus is on the company’s CAR-T program, Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel). Sales of the drug have been lower than the company would like, which is due to a number of reasons, including the risk of toxicity, cost and logistical issues regarding the process. However, O’Day has had a history of turning drugs into big sellers, The Wall Street Journal noted in its report about O’Day taking over. The Journal said O’Day has been involved with driving increased revenues from various oncology, hemophilia and multiple sclerosis drugs, including Ocrevus.

O’Day said he has been a long admirer of the work Gilead has done, particularly the way it has “fundamentally changed the way HIV and viral hepatitis are treated.”

“The company has successfully grown into a global organization, providing access to people around the world, while maintaining its focus on innovative science. Together with the board, leadership team and Gilead’s 11,000 employees, I look forward to building on this in ways that I believe will – in keeping with Gilead’s mission – transform the lives of millions of individuals,” O’Day said in a statement.

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