Vertex Appoints First Female CEO


Cystic fibrosis drugmaker Vertex Pharmaceuticals will have a new chief executive officer next year after current president and CEO Jeffrey Leiden announced his intentions to transition to the role of executive chairman of the board of directors on April 1, 2020.

Taking over the reins of the company will be Vertex’s Chief Medical Officer Reshma Kewalramani. She will assume the role of president and CEO and also take a seat on the board of directors, Vertex announced. Kewalramani will be first female CEO of a top-tier U.S.-based pharmaceutical company, the Boston Globe noted.

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Leiden has served as CEO of Vertex since 2012 and has overseen the growth of the company’s cystic fibrosis pipeline, as well as its expansion into gene therapies through a partnership with CRISPR Therapeutics and the acquisition of Duchene Muscular Dystrophy-focused Exonics Therapeutics. Leiden called it a “tremendous privilege” to lead Vertex for the past seven years. As the transition of the reins begins, Leiden said he looks forward to playing a “continued, active role” with the company and supporting Kewalramani’s leadership. Leiden has agreed to serve as executive chairman through the first quarter of 2023.

“Having worked closely with Reshma for the last several years, I know that she is tremendously talented, extremely passionate about our patient-centric mission, and fully prepared to lead Vertex as we enter our next phase as a company. Her background as a physician/scientist gives her a deep understanding of the core of Vertex – our outstanding science and commitment to serial innovation. She also is a strong, collaborative leader with a proven ability to execute against our strategy to deliver results. Importantly, she has a track record of putting patients first and driving innovation to have a transformative impact on patients’ lives,” Leiden said in a statement.

Kewalramani joined Vertex in February 2017. As CMO, she oversees clinical development, medical affairs, drug safety and other related functions, and is responsible for developing, advising and driving execution of Vertex’s clinical development programs. Prior to Vertex, Kewalramani spent more than 12 years at Amgen. At that company, she held a number of R&D-focused roles, including head of global clinical development of the Nephrology & Metabolic Therapeutic Area, and also head of the company’s U.S. medical organization. That later group, she established and grew to assume responsibility for the full portfolio of molecules across six therapeutic areas, according to the announcement. Currently, she is the industry representative to the FDA’s Endocrine and Metabolic Drug Advisory Committee.

In a brief statement, Kewalramani said she is honored to become the next CEO of Vertex and continue to drive the company’s mission alongside the “talented team” the company has assembled.

“Consistent execution of our strategy has produced a leading portfolio of products for CF (cystic fibrosis) that will potentially treat up to 90 percent of patients with the disease; a productive research engine that has already led to an enviable clinical stage pipeline of potentially breakthrough medicines in five additional diseases, including Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, Pain, Sickle Cell Disease, Beta Thalassemia, and APOL1-mediated kidney diseases; and the financial strength to continue to invest in future innovation,” Kewalramani said in a statement.

Bruce I. Sachs, lead Independent Director of Vertex’s board of directors, praised Leiden’s leadership and pointed to the success the company has seen during his tenure. “Vertex has never been stronger and is well-positioned for the future,” he said. Sachs noted that the board of directors has been working with Leiden for the past several years on a leadership transition when the time was right.

“The entire Board is excited that Reshma will become Vertex’s next CEO. She is an accomplished scientist and physician with more than 20 years of experience in medicine and biotechnology, and has a deep understanding and appreciation of Vertex’s strategy, business and culture,” Sachs said.

The announcement of a new CEO comes about a month after Vertex terminated Chief Operations Officer Ian Smith, following revelations that his personal behavior violated the company’s code of conduct. When it announced Smith was gone, the company did not disclose the allegations against Smith, nor the findings of its investigation.

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