FibroGen CEO resigns amid clinical losing streak, layoffs

FibroGen

FibroGen CEO resigns amid clinical losing streak, layoffs

Published: Jul 26, 2023

By Tristan Manalac

BioSpace

Tuesday, FibroGen announced that after three years at the helm, CEO Enrique Conterno had resigned “due to personal reasons.”

While FibroGen’s board searches for a permanent replacement, Chief Commercial Officer Thane Wettig will serve as interim CEO of the company, with Conterno taking the role of his special advisor during the transition period. The leadership transition took effect Sunday.

As interim CEO, Wettig will be overseeing a Phase III readout for its investigational antibody pamrevlumab, which is being developed for locally advanced unresectable pancreatic cancer (LAPC) and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

Wettig will also continue to advance FibroGen’s pipeline and “build on our success with roxadustat in China and the nearly 30 other countries in which it is approved,” he said in a statement.

Conterno was appointed as FibroGen CEO in January 2020 after working for nearly 30 years at Eli Lilly. He held several leadership positions at the Indiana pharma, including president of Lilly Diabetes and president of Lilly USA.

At Lilly, Conterno helped to re-establish its position as an industry leader in the diabetes space, “growing the business from approximately $3 billion to over $10 billion in annual revenue,” Tom Kearns, former chairman of FibroGen’s board, said in a statement at the time.

Conterno’s tenure at FibroGen was less glowing, however. When he joined, the California company was advancing its anemia asset roxadustat, a first-in-class investigational oral small molecule drug that inhibits the hypoxia-inducible factor prolyl hydroxylase protein, which in turn increases levels of erythropoietin and boosts the production of red blood cells. The candidate is being developed in partnership with AstraZeneca for the treatment of anemia associated with chronic kidney disease.

Conterno saw a lot of promise in roxadustat, which he believed had the “potential to change the treatment paradigm in anemia,” according to a statement he made during his appointment as FibroGen’s CEO.

In August 2021, however, following a last-minute advisory committee meeting, the FDA turned down FibroGen’s bid for roxadustat’s approval, citing concerning safety signals. Roxadustat failed another Phase III trial in May 2023 when it was unable to significantly differentiate itself from placebo at achieving red blood cell transfusion independence in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome.

FibroGen’s other candidate, pamrevlumab, has also suffered back-to-back flops. In June 2023, the investigational antibody fell short of its primary efficacy endpoint in DMD, unable to significantly improve upper limb performance versus placebo. The same month, pamrevlumab also failed to significantly slow lung function in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), forcing the company to drop a second late-stage IPF trial.

Earlier this month, FibroGen said it was cutting 104 workers in the U.S., or approximately 32% of its workforce, according to an SEC filing. Under a restructuring plan, the company estimates that it will save approximately $30 million to $35 million in annual expenses on a go-forward basis. Last month, FibroGen said the cost reduction effort in the U.S. was being implemented to extend its cash runway into 2026.

Source: BioSpace