UK drugmaker Shire Pharmaceuticals last week unveiled the successor to its current head Matthew Emmens, and announced a new deal with US group Alba Therapeutics for access to its promising gastrointestinal candidate.

Changes to Shire’s senior team, which will ‘go live’ in June 2008, include: current chief executive Matthew Emmens moving to non-executive chairman following the retirement of Dr James H Cavanaugh; and current chief financial officer Angus Russell filling the void as the new CEO.

Explaining the decision, the company claimed that Russell “is well qualified for his new position with eight years’ experience at Shire as CFO and Executive Board Director and 27 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry including working for ICI, Zeneca and AstraZeneca in finance, strategy and marketing.”

During his time with the firm, Russell has played a key role in building and putting in force Shire’s long-term business strategy, and so major changes to its current direction and modus operandi seem unlikely. And the importance of this was touched on by Cavanaugh, who said: “Maintaining continuity for a successful specialty biopharmaceutical company in a dynamic industry will we believe protect and develop the company and future returns to shareholders”.

Alba deal
Meanwhile, Shire has sealed a deal with US group Alba Therapeutics for global rights, excluding the USA and Japan, to its GI drug AT-1001.

In return for worldwide rights to the drug, which is currently in Phase II development for the treatment of Celiac disease, but also has potential in other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Shire will pay Alba: an upfront fee of $25 million; development and sales-based milestones capped to $300.5 million should the product reach blockbuster status; and royalties on sales of any products it gets on to the market.

Alba will fund all development until AT-1001 has completed the proof of concept stage of clinical testing, which is expected in the first half of 2009, after which both companies will equally share development costs under a joint development plan.

Emmens described the move as a “natural fit” with Shire’s “growing portfolio of gastrointestinal products”, and added that, once approved, he expects that the group will utilise its “existing European salesforce that is currently establishing relationships and expertise in the GI area through the marketing of Mezavant XL” to promote the product.