Drug company Alexion's shares plunge after CEO, CFO exit

Alexion lab
Source: Alexion
Alexion lab

The chief executive and chief financial officers of rare-disease drugmaker Alexion Pharmaceuticals were replaced Monday after losing confidence of the board of directors, according to a person familiar with the matter. The stock sank more than 15 percent.

Alexion said in a statement that CEO David Hallal resigned for personal reasons, while CFO Vikas Sinha left to pursue other opportunities.

Hallal will be replaced on an interim basis by Alexion board member David Brennan, previously CEO of British drug giant AstraZeneca, while the company searches for a permanent replacement.

Sinha will be replaced by David Anderson, former CFO of Honeywell.

Alexion has delayed filing its third-quarter 10-Q report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said in November the filing was delayed while it investigates allegations from a former employee about sales practices for the company's largest drug, Soliris.

It's unclear exactly what caused the board to lose confidence in Hallal and Sinha. Alexion said Monday it has found no reason to restate its previous financial results, and that it expects to file its third-quarter 10-Q by January.

"Obvious question: well, then why are David and Vikas gone?" RBC Capital Markets analyst Simos Simeonidis wrote in a note to investors Monday. "Answer: nothing requiring them to update previously reported results … but enough that they're no longer here."

The removal of the two executives surprised analysts, who anticipated a swifter conclusion to the investigation delaying Alexion's securities filing.

"We are surprised and saddened by today's news as we had expected fairly quick resolution of the investigation into marketing practices without any fallout in senior management," Cowen analyst Eric Schmidt wrote in a note to investors. "We now believe the board lost confidence in its senior leadership team, perhaps due to findings of unprofessional activity that were uncovered during the investigation, and decided that a change needed to be made now."

Schmidt maintained his outperform rating on the stock, telling clients that Alexion Chairman Dr. Lenny Bell "reinforced to us that the company is on a solid foundation."

Other analysts questioned why Bell, who founded Alexion in 1992, isn't more involved in running the company on an interim basis.

"Having board Chairman Dr. Lenny Bell play a more active role in this period would have been ideal, especially as investors gain familiarity with Mr. Brennan as well as Mr. Anderson," Barclays analyst Geoff Meacham wrote. Meacham, like others, also called the shares' weakness a buying opportunity, saying "the underlying fundamentals of the company are strong."

Alexion declined to take analysts' questions on a conference call Monday morning, only reiterating statements from its earlier press release.

"This transition comes at a time of great strength and momentum in Alexion's business," Brennan said in a statement. "When the board asked me to become interim CEO, I did so without hesitation because I believe strongly in this company and its mission to serve patients with breakthrough medical innovation and life-transforming therapies."