Bernard Poussot has been named President and Chief Executive Officer of US drug major Wyeth, with effect from January 1, 2008, when he takes over the reigns from Robert Essner.

“The election of Mr Poussot is a result of the company’s ongoing succession management process that has been an important focus of the Wyeth Board of Directors and management,” Essner commented, adding: “Bernard is exceptionally well-qualified for this role, and we have built a world-class management team to support him and the company.”

Although the choice of replacement comes as no great surprise, the timing of the announcement was a little unexpected, and could be a reflection of investor disappointment following a stream of disappointments during the year.

“Bernard Poussot, having been president and COO, was the heir apparent, but the timing of the announcement is a bit of a surprise,” Lehman Brothers analyst Tony Butler told Bloomberg, while Ramond James analyst Michael Krensavage said he thinks the shareholders are “frustrated with the string of pipeline setbacks.”

2007 has been somewhat rocky for the firm, which is trying hard to get some new drugs onto the market to soften the blow of its multi-billion-dollar selling antidepressant losing patent protection in 2010.

Rejections and delays

In August, US regulators rejected Wyeth’s atypical antipsychotic bifeprunox, on grounds that “efficacy data, when compared to reference drugs, were not sufficient for approval”. The company, and its partner Solvay, said at the time they intend to work with the Food and Drug Administration to address its comments and pursue the product’s approval as soon as possible.

The FDA also issued an approvable letter seeking extra information on Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), which the firm is hoping to market for depression and the symptoms of menopause, and one for the osteoporosis therapy Viviant (bazedoxifene), adding further delays to its new product portfolio.

The FDA also issued an approvable letter seeking extra information on Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), which the firm is hoping to market for depression and the symptoms of menopause, and one for the osteoporosis therapy Viviant (bazedoxifene), adding further delays to its new product portfolio. And last week Europe’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use turned down its leukaemia treatment Mytolarg (gemtuzumab ozogamicin), although it did recommend its advanced kidney cancer drug Torisel (temsirolimus).

In other bad news, Wyeth was forced to dump a Phase II trial of its hepatitis C treatment candidate HCV-796 on safety concerns, and then a US district court refused to prevent Israeli drugmaker Teva from selling a generic version of antiulcerant Protonix (pantoprazole) while the related patent battle is ongoing, which could further impact group’s sales.

So shareholders could well be looking to Poussot, who has been at the firm since 1986, to help steer a turnaround in fortune. Essner intends to remain in his current positions until the end of the year, and then will continue as Chairman of the Board of Directors for a period of transition, the group said.

Meanwhile, the company also announced that is has increased its quarterly dividend by $0.02 to $0.28 a share, and that it plans to buy back a whopping $5 billion in stock.