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Dendreon chief resigns from struggling firm

Published on 10/06/14 at 10:23am
John Johnson image
Dendreon's John Johnson

Chief executive of Dendreon John Johnson is to step down in the summer amid falling sales of the company’s key cancer vaccine Provenge.

Johnson who is resigning for personal reasons from the Seattle-based firm in August, is to be replaced by Douglas Watson – Dendreon’s lead independent director – as chairman until a successor is found.

Speaking on the move Johnson says: “I want to thank the team for all that they have accomplished over the past two years in the face of significant challenges. I first joined Dendreon because of my admiration for the company as a pioneer in immunotherapy and because of my belief in the power of Provenge as a personalised cancer treatment.” 

Provenge (sipuleucel-T) was approved by the FDA in April 2010 but its US breakthrough did not open the floodgates: and its slow uptake was in large part the reason for the Seattle-based biotech slashing 600 jobs and closing its manufacturing facility in New Jersey last year.

Its high cost and an unusual mechanism of action - plus competition from rivals such as Johnson & Johnson’s Zytiga and Astellas and Medivation’s Xtandi - have been key reasons for Provenge’s failure to gain the market foothold its manufacturer expected. 

The company’s only product is a personalised medicine that trains the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Whilst analysts once expected it to generate $4.3 billion annually by 2020, the forecast is now $319 million according to Bloomberg. 

Dendreon was seeking a buyer last year the news source points out, even as it cut jobs and Provenge sales slid 13% to $283.7 million. 

Johnson took to the helm in February 2012, replacing Mitch Gold, who led the company for nine years as it brought its prostate-cancer immunotherapy Provenge to market. 

Interim head Watson has served as one of Dendreon’s independent directors since February 2000. He is a chief executive at Pittencrieff Glen Associates, a consulting firm that he founded in 1999. 

Prior to that Watson’s career spans 33 years with Geigy/Ciba-Geigy/Novartis, during which time he held a variety of positions in the UK, Switzerland and the US. He also served as president and chief executive officer of Novartis US from 1997 for two years.

He adds: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank John for his leadership, dedication, and passion for helping prostate cancer patients live longer and better lives through Provenge.”

Brett Wells

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